Archive for March, 2008



The Mysterious Enigma of Why I Like Nena Trinity (when no one else does)

ALTERNATIVE TITLE THAT THE ASTUTE READER WILL CONTEXTUALLY PICK UP WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT: feeble excuse to post Nena Trinity fanart. Again.

It is a mysterious enigma, though. She’s been compared to Fllay Allster from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, on the basis that they’re both, pardon my French, crazy-ass bitches. Really crazy-ass bitches. The Colossus of Rhodes of crazy-ass bitches. Yet Fllay didn’t get my engine revving in the “oh god this girl” department, and Nena is not only revving the engine, but shoving me out of the driver’s seat into the passenger’s side, disengaging the parking brake, and gunning it full-blast down the street. Yes. That kind of “oh god this girl.”

So why the difference? First, Fllay and Nena aren’t the same kind of crazy. Fllay was meant to be a cruel manipulator of emotions, someone you despised and detested throughout the series. That didn’t stop some people from proclaiming her the best character in SEED. From the perspective of a character, Fllay was effective in being enough of a cruel manipulating bitch to tease out more interpersonal drama all throughout the series. I’d have to watch the series again to be a better judge of how effective the writers were using this for added melodrama power (I seem to remember her plotline getting a bit forced towards the end, but that may just be hazy memory), but I do remember that she very effectively made the viewer loathe every moment she was on the screen. It was like Madoka from Full Moon o Sagashite all over again: every time you see her face, you shake your fish at the screen and shout “Go away!” at the top of your lungs (thereby waking up other members of your household/apartments, because this is without a doubt occuring at 3am on a Saturday night/Sunday morning). She’s a character you loathe.

Nena Trinity, on the other hand, is potentially even crazier than Fllay. I mean, she blew up an entire wedding for no reason, because she felt like it, and it amused her. She, too, isn’t a character you’re supposed to love–but she is one you’re supposed to love to hate. Unlike Fllay, she’s deliciously crazy–she’s extremely impulsive and impatient, she takes great delight in killing (although not as much as the late and [un?]lamented Michael, who was also crazy, but he isn’t a girl, so I don’t care at this juncture), and so forth. The thing is, even though yo’re supposed to hate her, and love hating her, Mizushima still manages to make you feel sorry for her when both her brothers are killed in front of her eyes. Or, well, at least I felt sorry for her; I’m rather biased in this regard, so your mileage may have varied. She isn’t a character without viewer sympathy. Maybe it’s just a matter of taste, but I think Nena is much, much better in the likability department. She’s inhumanly crazy, but that just makes the shock of her brother’s deaths even more horrifying. I have the nagging feeling that Nena wasn’t killed for a deeper reason than Mizushima not wanting to kill off a character voiced by the one and only Kugimeister, but rather to keep her around to redeem her character through her subsequent actions. We won’t find out until this fall, sadly, but as long as she still lives, there’s hope for her to become a better person.

There’s this, and then there’s the fact that I suffer terribly from Kugimiya Disease. There is no cure. Tread carefully in the waters of anime, my friends: it’s highly contagious.

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Ghost Hound: Miyako Counseling Peep Show

I can only imagine the sorts of saucy introspective conversation that’s going on at this moment.

Ghost Hound continues to impress. What it may lack in terms of being a crazy screw-you-up-in-the-head series (while I, personally, don’t think it lacks this, some do), it more than makes up for in terms of characterization. I’ve heard it bandied about that Tarou is a bland character, which isn’t really true. He is a rather bland sort, but I think, more than anything else, it’s because of his status as a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder. What’s worse, his traumatic stress came at a very early age for him, and I can only imagine the shock of being kidnapped and watching your sister die in front of you (or be eaten by a giant black blob-man, whatever actually happened) at such an early age would leave lasting shockwaves throughout your entire personality. It’s entirely possible, then, that what is perceived as Tarou’s blandness is actually how his mind managed to cope with the traumatic event of kidnapping. PTSD affects different people in different ways, and it’s possible that, in order to avoid dealing with the horrors that he’d experienced, he generated a bland, lifeless, apathetic personality to evade having to deal with further trauma. He doesn’t show much emotion in the series, either positive or negative, which, to me, speaks of shock more than poor designing on the behalf of the writers.

Masayuki is a much more colorful personality than Tarou, yet even he still has his own issues. Here, rather than confront his own trauma of leading to the death of a classmate, he instead immerses himself in virtual reality. Similar to Tarou, he’s escaping his past, although unlike Tarou he puts on a good front of being completely calm and at ease with his past. Except, of course, for the early episodes, where he was still terrified of heights, the curing of which being the  original purpose the virtual reality games were to serve. There, even the normally calm, suave Masayuki betrays his own inner doubts and fears. He claims to have moved past them, but is that truly the case?

Makoto is still something of an engima at this point, yet episode 14 gave us tantalizing glimpses into his personality. We see him recalling his youth, where he stabs an innocent frog to death, evidently for the sheer fun of it.  His fate is locked in to being the successor to his grandmother, and, resentful of this predetermination of his life, turns to a typical rebellious teenager form of rebellion: rock. I think, however, that the end of episode 14 served to explore further his character, seeing his reactions to the proclamation of Miyako as the successor to his grandmother, his subsequent command to the god resident in Miyako (I can’t remember its name at the moment) for his grandmother to die, and then running home to find his grandmother dead. We don’t know that much about him yet, but obviously there’s something unspoken under the surface here.

Despite the merits I see in Ghost Hound’s story and overall mood, without the characters, I don’t think this would be nearly as good a series as it could have been. I’m not a fan of Ghost in the Shell, as I mentioned before, but Ghost Hound is making me reconsider the abilities of Shirow Masamune in the writing department (but not in the artistry department; I’m glad they hired someone different to do the designs for the series). I still don’t know whether or not I’d like other series in this sort of genre, though, but there’s nothing left to do but try them!

Revolutionary Girl Utena: “For the revolution of the world!”…or, at least, Utena

Behold! Confused Utena! I don’t really know what I can say about the nigh-legendary series Revolutionary Girl Utena, but I’m going to try!

This is my third time through the series as a whole. I first watched it back in 2004 (or, at least, I think it was 2004…) and it was quite the ride the first time through. Then I watched it a second time in 2006, and that was quite a ride, but this time because I watched the entire thing over the span of approximately three days, the latter two-thirds in one day (I swear I didn’t mean to watch the whole thing that day, it just…happened) And here, it is 2008, and I’m rewatching Utena for the third time, and it’s every bit as enjoyable as it was the first time.

The first arc, it seems to me, serves more as setup than as actual plot generation. The arc focuses on Utena rather a lot, as opposed to the focus on Anthy which the later series adopts. The arc serves to mature Utena in the eyes of the viewer, from a girl who is merely trying to imitate the prince of her youth by dressing in a mannish fashion (and thank god for this) to a girl who could arguably be called a prince in her own right. If she were male, but gender never matters in anime.

At the beginning of the series/arc, Utena simply wants to seek out her prince and find him and live happily ever after with him. Instead, she finds herself drawn into the duels of the Ohtori Student Council (who has the best theme music ever: Densetsu – Kami no Na wa Abrazas [Legend – The Name of God is Abraxas]. Yes, for those avid Herman Hesse readers out there who also watch anime religiously enough to follow this blog, the whole spiel in the elevator to the Student Council room is a reference to Derian) . She wins the first of these duels against the vicious Saionji, and thus comes into possession of the Rose Bride, Himemiya Anthy.

As the arc progresses, she finds herself increasingly supporting Anthy’s change for the better, and the two of them become good friends. As Utena fights the other Student Council members for possession of Anthy, she grows ever more sure of what she sees as her mission, which is to free Anthy from the clutches of the dueling game and turn her back into a normal human being.

And then Touga steps in with a malicious plot of his own. Planting in Utena’s mind that he’s the prince she’s long sought after, he tricks Utena into losing a battle against him, giving him possession of Anthy and leaving Utena in a state of shock. The loss of Anthy is more devestating to Utena than she lets herself realize. It is then that she is forced to choose between her desire to help and nurture Anthy, and her desire to be loyal to her prince, who she sees as Touga.

Because otherwise the series would be 13 episodes, she chooses Anthy. And here it is interesting to note that, by choosing Anthy over her false prince Touga, she rejects the grip that the prince, Dios, has held over her since that fateful day in a coffin. She is no longer driven by a desire to emulate the prince in attire, rather, she has become a much more whole emulation of the princely desire. She stands up for what she believes in, even against insurmountable odds and a frightening new power of the Sword of Dios.

In the world of Anthy, however, the effect of this arc is small, but significant for the larger picture. In the second duel with Touga, Anthy realizes that Utena is her only true friend, the only one who likes her for who she is, not the Rose Bride that she represents. By so doing, she cancels the protection and power offered to the Sword of Dios in Touga’s possession. It’s a small spark that will later trigger the much larger concluding scene to the TV series: stepping out of Ohtori Academy by herself.

The series functions primarily as an allegory, which means that the events of the series aren’t to be taken literally Considering the sheer wtf-factor involved in the imagery and setting of the series, and general bizarreness, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Utena is one of my all-time favorite series for a reason, and the depth of characterization stands at or above thelevel of the  directorial wonkiness Ikuhara pulls off. The two function almost at a synergy, the way they should be in any story. Clever direction cannot not stand on its own merits, at least for me, and, while story can stand on its own merits in the absence of good direction, it does require at least competent, average direction to properly work. When the two are combined, however, magic is made. Or, in this case, revolutions. And swirly rose blossoms.

Spice and Wolf: Determined Horo, Helpless Lawrence

Yes, he’s useless again. This may be Medieval Moe Economics Thriller, but, despite that Medieval there, the Damsel in Distress to save isn’t a damsel at all.

Uselessness of Lawrence aside, this episode existed solely to set the viewer up for the subsequent episode, which will be the Climactic Finale for the series, to be followed by a special DVD episode of what I can only hope is 24 minutes of Horo being Horo. As setup, it’s all just kind of…there, but the Thrilling Conclusion to this arc, and the series as a whole, promises to be Quite Good indeed.

Since it seems that no matter what Lawrence does, he can’t catch a break from anyone at any time, I can only imagine how frustrating his life must be. Backstabs, double-crosses, and sneaky tactics a thrilling story make, however, and this arc is certainly much easier to comprehend than the first one. It almost makes me want to see Japan make Wolf and Stock Market, and have it explain the principles of modern economics so that I can maybe finally get a handle on the elusive maths. That, and it’d be fun to have entire arcs devoted to trying to profit off a collapsing housing bubble, and wolfgirls running amok on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. We might even encounter Alan Greenspan with wolf ears!

Seeing Horo interact with others of her kind (“her kind” being giant wolves), even if all she’s doing is yelling at them for being impudent, is facinating. I think, perhaps, what’s driving her to fight this newcomer isn’t so much a desire to protect Lawrence and Nora (but mostly Lawrence), but, rather, her sense of pride as a wolf. She’s upset at the upstart young whippersnapper of a wolf for daring to approach her and her party, and so, it must pay the penalty. It’s that kind of attitude that makes Horo a bit more than your average tsundere. It’s an admission that, despite looking human and acting human, she isn’t quite fully there yet, and she has a vicious feral side that might just get let out next episode. Bloodletting ahoy.

As long as Nora doesn’t die I’m a-okay with it, though.

Minami-ke: The Accumulation of the Ludicrous

Welcome to Anime wa Bakuhatsu da!, “I have no idea what I’m going to write about tonight! Help!” edition! Thrills! Excitement! Boys dressed as cute girls! It’s all here!

Er, well, this is about Minami-ke, so enough complaining and on to it. I recently found the time to blast through the last few episodes of the first season (I still haven’t so much as started the second season) and I felt like I wanted to talk about it only now, so here you are!

I was thinking recently about the series, and I’ve reached a reason why I found it so hilarious: not only is it totally absurd in character actions, but nearly every story is like that strip of Calvin and Hobbes where a derailed train, a crashing airplane, a stampede of escaped zoo animals, and various other nasty things are all coincidentally converging on Farmer Smith’s house, where he is (of course) lighting his gas stove with a match, unaware of the massive gas leak in his home. What I mean by this is, the situation starts out with a simple misunderstanding between two characters, and, although, in the viewer’s mind, the situation is easily resolved by shouting things at the screeen, the characters are behind that screen, and therefore cannot hear you. So, because they’re all characters who tend to overthink the situation to an absurd degree, things quickly spiral out of their control.

Take, for example, the lovely Makoto. He likes Haruka, but Chiaki hates him. Clever Kana, however, comes up with an idea to save him: dress him up as a girl, so that Chiaki won’t recognize him. And, thus, Mako-chan is born. Now, to us, the viewer, the way out is easy: simply explain that you’re actually a guy and everything will sort itself out, right?

Wrong. If it hadn’t been for Touma showing up, being the tomboy that she is, Makoto could have easily gotten out of his predicament. Instead, of course, things spiral far beyond his control, and even telling the truth is simply assumed to be a falsehood, because the Minami sisters are oblivious to everything. And, to make matters worse, Makoto finds himself drawn, strangely, to wearing female clothing, leading to a supreme sense of general gender confusion on his behalf.

What makes this funny instead of woefully tragic (I can almost imagine this exact same setup in a drama) is that no matter how much Mako-chan twists and turns to try and get out of this situation, not only do things not get better, they get increasingly worse. It’s that accumulation of the ludicrous, the sense, as you watch the series, that as more and more people are brought into the series, the more complicated the situation between them gets, until it’s almost unbearably large. Of course, it doesn’t stop there.

It’s an incredibly over-the-top comedy, in the way that Dokuro-chan could only dream of. What is over-the-top about it isn’t a large amount of slapstick and shouting, which I never found especially humorous, but a much more classy over-the-top. To give you a terribly frightening mental image, it’s Guy Shishiou, the beloved cyborg hero from GaoGaiGar, in full fighting regalia, with a tuxedo on top of that, a pipe in his mouth (bubble or tobacco, it doesn’t matter at this point) , sitting on a plush velvet armchair, and hosting tonight’s episode of Masterpiece Theater.

That is how ever-the-top Minami-ke is. It’s remarkably sophisticated yet insanely ludicrous at the same time. How many anime comedies can lay claim to that title?

Mobile Suit Gundam 00: “Are you satisifed with this world?”

Felt-tan is weeping for Lockon Stratos. I would like to give her a hug. But I can’t, because she is made of pixels. :(

The difference in ideology between Lockon (standing in for the Meisters in general) and Ali Al-Sarchez (standing in for, uh…Ali Al-Sarchez) certainly reared its ugly head, here at the end of the road. Both Ali and Celestial Being are terrorists, of a sort–but it gives an insight into what terrorism really is. Ali is, of course, the way we want to view terrorists: insane, war-mongering, and bloodthirsty individuals. And, certainly, in our world, there are quite a few of them out there, although I personally have not met one and therefore cannot vouch for this fact. But the thing you have to remember about terrorists is, there’s also ones like Lockon out there, who aren’t fighting because they want to, but because they want to change the world somehow. It’s a shady gray area that Gundam 00 is touching upon here. Terrorists are like any other  human: they fight for what they feel is right, even if it means violence to get their way. We may not agree with their methodology (in the case of the real-world, I certainly don’t), but, at least in their minds, violence is the only path to change. The eradication of war is certainly a noble goal, but to what means Celestial Being will take to achieve this end is in doubt. How far is too much?

The difference is clear, however: the story is a conflict, as Gundam series always are, between those who wish for more chaos and war, and those who wish to stop it. We had this in Gundam X, we had this in Gundam Wing, we had this in the UC series, we had it in Turn A, and we had some bizarre, Imagawa-influenced version of it in G Gundam. Of course, in this case, rather than either side working for any one government or military, it’s instead paramilitary versus paramilitary. The actual military is left to unite against the threat.  It’s a complicated mess of a situation, like any war, and, on this, at least, Celestial Being and the military stand a chance at agreeing on things, except for that pesky methodology problem of intervening in conflicts.

We already saw the Trinity’s approach to eradicating war, namely, blow everything and anything up to prevent conflict from ever happening in the first place. Yet even this subsidiary branch of the great Schenberg plan may be in for some posthumous redemption in the form of Nena joining into possibly-tenuous alliance with Setsuna & Co. Or, at least, that’s what my Kugimiya-addled brain wants to happen, what may actually happen might differ from my ideal scenario.

And, finally, a eulogy for Lockon:

Lockon. Lockon. Lockon. Lockon. Lockon. Lockon. Lockon. Lockon. Lockon. Lockon. (etc.)

No, really, Lockon’s final words (see title for handy reminder) point out one critical thing: the world we live in, however advanced it might be, still isn’t the ideal world for humanity to live in. The real question posed by Lockon, then is: do humans really want the world to change? Or would they rather stay in the “comfort zone” of wars and turmoil, unwilling to change due to general acceptance of the way the world is?

Or is Lockon really a crazy bastard, and the suave cool guy demeanor was just a front? THE CHOICE IS YOURS.

Shigofumi: The Last Miracle Consented to Men

This was a good episode, and probably the most “uplifting” of all Shigofumi episodes to date. It’s uplifting in the Bokurano sense, though, in that watching it leaves this bittersweet feeling flooding through you, in the way that only stories about death can. We see, in this episode, the progression of Takehiko from graphic artist for a videogame, to depressed man dying of cancer, to even deeper depression as society and family treats him like dirt, to…well, we’ll get to it in a bit.

It’s a simple story of a dying man’s fleeting jaunt with a young girl (no, it’s not dirty, get that brain of yours out of the gutter)–a kind of dual perspective on the whole life thing. The bright-eyed, cheerful Fumika never seems to let anything get her down, whereas the simple act of watching Dragonman (which, by the way, sounds totally awesome and I request, nay, demand spinoff OVAs) brings Takehiko to the brink of depression, worsened by the police officer arresting him for kidnapping a child, despite the fact that this isn’t what he’s done, and despite Fumika’s protestations.

Takehito is, of course, dying, and as the day progresses he realizes more and more that what he felt as his goal in life–drawing to make people happy–has failed. He’s quit his job due to his terminal illness. He lashes out at his mother, who allegedly despises him for being an otaku, for little reason at all. Yet still Fumika seems to enjoy his presence, in her own oblivious way. Yet even still, as his life collapses around him, he thinks of ending it all.

And then Fumika pulls out the game she’s been playing all day. It just so happens to be the game Takehito was working on (coincidence? I think not) and, of course, the cheerful face of Fumika playing it finally, at the end of a practically harrowing day, finally finds a reason to live, and keep living.

And then dies. Such is Shigofumi.

Takehito was obviously searching for a deeper meaning in life (hence his quitting of his job, his somewhat odd statements to Fumika at the start of the episode) and yet, at the end of it all, found it was staring him in the face and smiling. With cat ears. It’s an incredibly simple episode, but it’s elegiac in nature and we all know how that makes me feel (deeply satisfied, that’s what). I think the simple, packaged, take-out moral here is that happiness doesn’t have to be something grand, a life’s masterpiece of epic proportions, but, rather, just simple pride that one person, however insignificant, has taken pleasure in something you’ve done.

It’s fitting, and somewhat sad, then, that Fumika switches off the Not-Game Boy Advance at the end of the episode. It could be read as a twisted way to end the story–she switches the game off, showing to the viewer that maybe the pleasure Takehito took in her obsession with it was merely fleeting–but I don’t quite think so. Rather than an acknowledgment that his final pleasure was meaningless, it’s more of a realization that he’d found what he was looking for: not pride in the game, but Fumika. After all, he gave his now-ruined life to save hers. It’s only fitting, then, that she should save his (well, metaphorically speaking), not only through the mechanism of playing the game, but also through her devotion to him throughout the entire episode. I think the drawing is indicative of his deep respect for her, which she may not quite fully grasp yet.

Maybe if she puts the cat ears on again, understanding will dawn…


NOTICE SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM G.K. CHESTERTON

I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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