Archive for May, 2008

Toshokan Sensou: The Only Thing Missing Is a Card Catalog

I love you even when you’re mad, Iku, although I’m sure Doujou loves you more (and, if not yet, soon).

I still don’t care how little sense this series makes. It’s totally awesaome. The best part about episode 4 was the part where, in order to get around the problem of not beling allowed to fire weapons off library property unless given special dispensation to (which brings up the interesting dynamic of the librarians being the defenders in this war, rather than the offense–more later) simply by declaring the building where Iku and the librarian administrator were held the newest branch of the Kanto library. Of course, that was made even better because they managed to storm the entire place without firing a shot, but, hey, we always need more libraries around.

I also highly enjoyed the “discussion” (more like reminder) of the basic prinicples of library operation: do not restrict access to information. Of course, in a real library, this is a somewhat thorny problem, as things become somewhat complicated when you start mixing the public in. Pulbic libraries and major academic libraries that let patrons in from outisde the university, which is most of them; I think I’ve only been to one private library in my life, a horse-focused one in Keeneland (yes, I live in Kentucky; no, we aren’t all hicks, and no, I will not send you moonshine), so it’s probably less of a concern there. Still, in public settings (I work at two of them, so I’ve seen this process twice) there are sensitive issues such as whether or not people should access things such as pornography at a library. The government-run public library has a strict computer user policy where you can theoretically be ejected/banned from the library for accessing such material, although in practicality this almost never happens. The worst most people get is all the librarians sharing a hearty laugh in the back room about it. At the other library, though, it’s not forbidden so much as, if another patron/staff member raises a complaint about what someone is looking at on a computer, security steps in and tells them to find a new computer (and there’s like 50 quintillion of the things in the building).

More relevant to Toshokan Sensou is the rather strange fact that, as mentioned above, the libraries are on the defensive against censors, rather than on the offensive. Perhaps it’s just that we’re all a bunch of pacifists, but it’s interesting from the social commentary position that libraries have to defend freedom of speech and expression from a public (or, in this case, a government-sponsored organization) that strives to censor information. I’m not entirely sure about how one can be on the offensive about freedom of speech, but,.as a librarian, it’s always struck me as strange that people would want to abridge freedom of speech. This is a crazy complicated issue, as the ALA likes to speak out against things such as book burnings, which, if you look at them funnily enough, become a matter of free speech, in that their burning of the book is their way of saying that they abhor this book. More straightforward is the banning of books, which is clearly a violation of freedom of speech. I’m still vastly amused over the hubbub when a few rogue librarians threw a hissy fit over The Higher Power of Lucky after it won a Newbery because the word “scrotum” was on the first page (the scrotum in question was attached to a dog, but this didn’t stop them), and banned the book from their library, declaring it unfit for children. Freedom of speech is awesome and I would totally join an army to protect it, especially if we got to recite these lines here as our own personal Articles of War.

Oh, and just for fun:

What the hell kind of classification system are they using? Maybe I’m just too unfamiliar with the general operating mechanics of the Nippon Decimal Classification, but this doesn’t make any sense at all. First, why are there no decimal numbers and Cutter numbers and, second, why aren’t the call numbers (if one can call such abominations “call numbers”) in numerical order? Do your library research, Production I.G. (Or maybe I just don’t know how things are done in libraries in Japan, as I know I’ve seen that style of call number label in anime before, but it doesn’t seem to be any use to anyone at all)


kure-nai: Tamaki, She of Many Contradictions

Don’t feel sad, Tamaki. I’m sure someone out there will appreciate your slightly strange ways! (maybe)

The best thing about kure-nai has got to be the writing/timing. Matsuo Kou is amazing, and he’s fast entering into my league of Favorite Directors. He’s nailed both the writing (although the scripts are sometimes done by other staffers), but perhaps more importantly, he’s quite good at the most important part of good storytelling: timing. The age-old joke that goes “What’s the most important element to comedy?” “I don’t know, what is th–” “TIMING!” (which is an amazing joke) is both supremely rewarding when pulled off effectively (as Matsuo does in kure-nai) but, as I’ve found in trying to actually tell this joke to people, it’s practically impossible to get right. Granted, it’s partially the job of the voice actors to get the timing down right, but it’s also Matsuo’s job to get them to get the timing the way he wants.

The moments of comedy, however, don’t necessarily overshadow the more serious content. I think the scene in 7 with Tamaki being confronted with her (now ex-)boyfriend while dragging Murasaki around campus is perhaps the best example of this, as well as being a quite harsh gaze into Tamaki’s quite perplexing personality. The moments leading up to this were jovial and humorous, with Tamaki pointing out the flaws in the relationships of everyone in the plaza, even (and especailly) the ones she didn’t know personally. As soon as her boyfriend shows up (I don’t think they even mentioned his name) the scene starts shifting from the comic to the dramatic as it’s revealed that Tamaki, for all her ability to see the flaws in the relationships around her, still can’t seem to see the flaws in her own. I don’t know exactly where, how, or when Tamaki met up with this mysteruous phantom boyfriend of hers (the fact that she had one was a surprise to me), but it was quite clear that Tamaki, for all of her carefree attitude, still is affected strongly by negative reactions. She describes herself as a strong woman, but how strong is she really? And does strength come with a price?

Tamaki certainly seems to be independent and unreliant upon others on the surface (even if she’s fairly lazy, if she’s been skipping class to sit around and do nothing with Murasaki all this time), but this seems to be a facade if something as seemingly trifling for a proper strong-willed independent woman to suffer crippling, if momentary, depression over the loss of a boyfriend (apparently made tragic not by the fact that they broke up, but by the fact that she didn’t break up with him). Is Tamaki truly “strong” then? Perhaps yes, perhaps no; more likely she’s like everyone else and strong in some areas and weak in another. One doesn’t necessarily have to be “flawless” to be “strong”, so, technically, the test to see if Tamaki is strong or not is to see whether or not she bounces back from this rather abrupt change in situation. True strength (and true womanliness, or manliness, or neuterliness, or whatever) comes not from not feeling or even demonstrating pain or suffering, but, rather, from rising up from it. Even the strongest among us cry at times (unless they’ve been replaced by those aliens from Parasyte), but it’s all in how you handle it, and less how you display it.

At any rate, Tamaki is a wonderfully fun character, in both positive and negative moods (I spent much of the first part of the episode laughing at her sardonic way of pointing out things). And (as always) Murasaki continues to be a bundle of adorable, if totally clueless, joy (“You like me, right? That’s why you became a lolicon!”). And, generally, when I’m as impressed by a series as I am at the moment, at this juncture, I have full confidence that the series will end every bit as good as it started.

Itazura na Kiss: I, uh…well, I…WHAT?

Wow. They are definitely not dilly-dallying around this time.

I really, really, really have no idea what is running through Irie’s mind at this moment. Is he playing yet another elaborate prank on Kotoko? Is this his true nature showing through? What is going on? The questions have no end!

If it is Irie playing a dastardly prank on Kotoko for God knows what reason, there could be two things at work here: one, he’s exacting revenge for Kotoko playing the childhood photo card, which was itself in revenge for Irie humiliating her in front of all his Class A friends. Two, and this kind of ties in with the first, he could be doing something even worse: messing with her emotions for his own personal pleasure. Since we really haven’t been given that much of a glimpse into Irie’s actual thought process, save for that one fleeting internal monologue a few episodes ago, the story is entirely from Kotoko’s perspective, so, technically, we are just as clueless as to Irie’s intentions as she is. it’s clear, though, that no matter what the intent of Irie was, the result on Kotoko will be her once again calling into question herself and her feelings. Considering that she was pretty intent on hating him when he dragged her out into the alley, Irie’s actions will only leave her more badly confused.

Of course, if what I mentioned a couple episodes ago and that Kotoko and Irie are merely having an extended, complicated, and delicious flirting session, then Irie is less being a malicious bastard and more extending this flirting to somewhat more serious levels. This, of course, is the fervent hope of all who follow this series, that Irie, deep down inside, really likes Kotoko, yet refuses to show it except occasionally. I highly doubt (this being shoujo after all) that Irie will end up, in the end, being a malicious bastard, but there’s always that remote chance of BAD END.

It’s also fun to look at Kare Kano, or, well, I think it is. Itazura na Kiss manga started in 1990, and Kare Kano started in 1995. What’s interesting is that, in Itazura na Kiss, the focus of the manga is the getting to the relationship, and the whole complicated process to arrive at that lofty destination. In Kare Kano (which arguably took some pointers from Itazura na Kiss, especially for its early parts) reduces the process of “meeting and falling in love” into merely the starting point for the series, changing the focus instead from getting the relationship that you desire to maintaining it. It’s almost like Kare Kano was a reaction to Itazura na Kiss, in some ways reducing the entire series into a volume or two of content, and then proceeding on with the story.

At any rate, I am now burning with desire for the next episode, because things are going to get Complicated with the addition of some kind of other girl (how dare you, Irie) so on top of the already wacky relationship balance between Kotoko and Irie, we get love triangles. Hoo boy. This could get intense, fast.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water: Gainaxing At Its Finest

Yay for Captain Global Nemo, the manliest man under the ocean!

So on a somewhat random whim this week, spurred by a friend picking it up, I picked up Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, not really expecting much from it at all. Yes, going into it, I knew that it was Anno Hideaki and the rest of the Neon Genesis Evangelion staff working on it, and yes, I knew that it’d get crazy, because what is Gainax for if not being utterly crazy? However, the nature of the crazy is what’s caught me off guard, especially given the light, fluffy nature of the early episodes. I also knew I’d be in for a ride the instant I saw “Based on Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” pop up during the opening credits, as that was one thing I didn’t know beforehand. And I love Jules Verne to death, although I last read 20,000 Leagues sometime in elementary school (and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t one of those stupid Great Illustrated Classics versions which “dumb” and abridge the text down and shove a poorly drawn picture every other page, although my copy of Journey to the Center of the Earth was one of these editions and I must have read it about 20 times). I’ve since picked up a copy to read through sometime soon in light of Nadia, so fun times will be had by all.

The first time Nadia caught me off guard was when they started developing Grandis’s two henchmen, Sanson and Hanson. I had written them off as “comic villains”, given the way they were portrayed in the early episodes, but then they threw Gargoyle into the mix and characters who once felt like they were existent only for the purpose of giving Grandis (herself relatively undeveloped as well) someone to shout at and boss around. After the destruction of the Tower of Babel and the protagonists jumping aboard the Nautilus for Fun and Adventure with Captain Nemo, they suddenly switch to “good guys” and are afforded time to become their own characters. I don’t know if this should have really surprised me, but given the way the series had been progressing up to that point, the first scene with Sanson and Hanson in their cabin on the Nautilus behaving less like Henchmen #1 and #2 and more like actual characters told me that there was Something Else to Nadia.

That Something Else turned out to be what I can only assume at this point are the major themes in Nadia: technology’s dual nature, for both human good and human evil; and, of course, the importance of not becoming that which you hate. In the three episodes I watched tonight (13-15) these two issues have been the central focus, as the harshness of the Nautilus’s reality comes into sharp focus when Nemo is first forced to kill a Neo-Atlantean to defend Nadia (despite her protesting that he is hurt and that he needs to be cared for), followed almost immediately by the difficult decision to let crewmembers die rather than jeopardize the Nautilus. The sheer amount of delicious (melo?)drama in these three episodes is the second time Nadia has surprised me. Before these episodes, Nadia was a comedy/drama leaning more towards the comedy side. Indeed, 13 is a wild ride of Marie cuteness (“Oh my God!”) and geneal hijinks, all of which serve to further accentuate the conclusion of the episode, which is Nadia accusing Nemo and the crew of the Nautilus of being murderers. It’s extremely rare for emotions to suddenly change course like that (I last saw it in Eureka Seven, in the rather abrupt disjoint between 26 and 27/28, which knocked me for a loop that took 7 more episodes to cure, although I’m not sure why this was the case) and it was extremely “pleasant” (disturbing) to go from having a rollicking good time to feeling absolutely horrified at the inhumanity of Nemo. It’s probably the turning point of the series, as we’ve had much more drama and tension since then, and much less goofy comedy.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with Nadia thus far, as my opinion of it has steadily grown from “this is okay but silly” to “this is awesome”, which just means that I shouldn’t underestimate either Gainax or Anno. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann. But no, I never learn my lesson, unless it’s beaten over my head enough times.

(And, yes, I have heard all the horror stories about the so-called “Island Episodes”, and I know that 23-34 will most likely be painful for me to watch, but I can stand it. I am a brave man, and an anime fan on top of that. I can do this!)

Allison & Lillia: War Ends, War Starts

Lookin’ sharp, there, Allison. Adds an air of mystique to your general personality.

So,  having just seen episodes 4 and 5, the first of which is the final part of the “treasure hunt” arc, and the second of which is the start of the “you thought the war was over PRANKED” arc, Allison & Lillia is getting decidedly more complicated than I thought it would be, especially given episode 5.

In episode 4, the revelation of the treasure (which wasn’t really a revelation for the audience as it’s right in the middle of the OP) illustrated the important fact about conflict that everyone needs to keep in mind: we may have our differences, but we’re all humans. Sigsawa has been hammering, by proxy of the anime adaptation, this point in hard up to this episode. Facts and histories are exaggerated by governments/the media/other people (often unconsciously, as I honestly doubt that there’s a vast media conspiracy out there that all the network execs have to pledge to before becoming an exec that dictates that they intentionally warp and skew things; warping and skewing is what happens when one person tells something to someone else, it just gets out of hand when one person tells 100 million people something), leading to a perpetuation of a state of conflict, and it often seems as if people have lost track of the fact that we’re all in this together. The “treasure” of the mural of the two sides of Roxche and Sous-Beil cooperating (instead of being enemies forever, as everyone had been brought up to believe), as well as the fact that military officers from both sides (Allison and Kar) cooperated to make it to the treasure all point to one thing: people should get along. Perhaps Haro was not so wrong after all!

This isn’t to say that we should all be a bunch of tree-hugging Woodstock-attending hippies and gather around a big campfire and hold hands and sing Kum Ba Yah for eternity and anon, or even that we shouldn’t be allowed to dislike other people, but there’s a difference between “dislike” and “hatred”, and, while the former is perfectly fine to feel, the latter tends to cause more problems than it solves. I’ve seen lots of people (myself included, lest you think I am riding Big Brown rather than Eight Belles [people from Kentucky will get this. Everyone else won’t.]) totally throw logic, reason, and rationality out the window as a result of the burning hatred they feel for something. And often, you hate something you don’t understand, or can’t even begin to comprehend. It’s a difficult emotion at best, and completely unstoppable if left unchecked. And, if left unchecked, Terrible Things (such as the war between Roxche and Sous-Beil–see, it ties in!) result from it.

This seems to be the next step for Our Intrepid Heroes Allison and Wil as they stumble headlong into what appears to be a terrorist cell of some kind, which illustrates another point: you can’t please everyone all of the time, and as much as I hate to admit it, it’s practically impossible to acheive the lofty goal of World Peace unless aliens come down and replace us all with emotionless robots. Which just goes to illustrate the terribly complex nature of the world in which we live. Allison & Lillia, for all of its plot simplicities, is managing to make this incredibly hard-to-grasp concept clear for all to see. How is it accomplishing this? Through same plot simplicity, through skilled writing, and through delivering it all in a package with a spunky-yet-cute Air Force pilot teenage girl.

And people say that cute girls in anime are bad. Shame on them. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

Oscar & Hammerstein Present: kure-nai: The Musical

It’s the hot new off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-Broadway production! Guaranteed to win a Tony award, if things that are that off Broadway can actually win those things!

I literally have no idea what I just watched, but it wasawesome. Totally pure filler, but awesome pure filler. I have always said that life is better if you break out into song and dance numbers at the drop of a hat (and I can’t for the life of me figure out why people don’t do this spontaneously) and, while I don’t go to the theater very often (or watch a lot of musicals, partially due to the fact that I have trouble following sung lyrics unless I have a sheet in front of me) musicals are usually a lot of fun to watch. SDS has, of course, woefully only briefly touched on the concept of anime as theater, and while I haven’t really managed to find something else to add to his observation in the month or two I’ve had to think of somethin, I nevertheless agree fully, as when he mentioned it to me it was one of those things that’s so blatantly obvious that it never actually occured to me until it was pointed out. I suppose it has something to do with the high level of emotional intensity/pathos/melodrama/etc. that I’ve touched upon before, in addition to the device of internal monologue, but I really don’t know, and won’t know unless I go to the theater more often, but with my limited experience I agree wholeheartedly with his observation.

The actual episode was a perfectly timed, perfectly directed, perfectly acted comedy episode. By the time they got to the part where everyone busts out in song (and the animators struggle to keep up) I was essentially totally lost as to what was actually going on and was just sitting there watching the characters have a ball. And they definitely got carried away with the acting thing, as the people Benika hired to pretend to be the director and crew of the play were sitting in bafflement as the play segued from being a Japanese play to being something else entirely (word on the street points to a possible Red Garden reference/parody, but I cannot confirm as I have not seen Red Garden. Yet.), which just tells me that they totally got lost in the fun of it all. And Yuuno got her wish of a loving relationship with Shinkurou (never mind the fact that they were both acting at the time), which I heartily endorse (everything in the episode after she showed up and started singing badly was amazing). Tamaki and Yamie are awesome, as always (I really don’t know what they do for a living, or if they do, because they’re always around all day at the apartment complex to teach Murasaki things that she shouldn’t ought to be taught, such as the joys of following daytime soap operas) and doubly so dragging Yayoi into the whole mess against her will.

I think things like this need to happen a bit more often in anime. Plot and drama and so on is all well and good, but every once in a while it’s fun to kick back and relax and have fun. Some series do this in specials (SD Gundam, the SEED/Destiny DVD specials, Shakugan no Shana-tan, etc.) which often take self-conscious potshots at the series itself, pointing out flaws and twisting lines and scenes into out-of-context hilarity. In the case of kure-nai, it’s just fun to see the characters not stressing out or worrying overly much and just have a good time. I suspect that this episode is probably a small glimpse into the life of the characters when they aren’t on-screen and driving the plot, although I don’t think they bust into song very often. It’s like a window into the other side of the series.

Or something. Whatever it is, I need to obtain Nerima Daikon Brothers sometime to sate my need for anime musicals that has been engendered by this episode, although Nabeshin is slightly too…Nabeshin for me. But it’s worth a shot!

Code Geass R2: Arms Race in Anime Land

I may talk a lot about the technology in this post, but that doesn’t stop Nunally from totally throwing a wrench into Lelouch’s plans!

Code Geass R2 continues to impress (depite the naysayers who think it’s gone too far), especially now that I’m back to being settled into the Code Geass groove after being in the Gundam 00 groove for six months. And one thing that’s been running through my head all through the first series and R2 thus far has been: “wow, technology is progressing fast.” Yes, a year’s passed since the end of the first season (and I don’t know if there’s any official figures on how big a span of time the first season covered, or how much time R2 has covered thus far), but even in the first season, rather than the Gundam-esque mid-series upgrade (which even Gundam doesn’t follow half the time; I think After War Gundam X had at least two upgrades, if not three, for Garrod’s Gundam alone, counting both the X and the XX) there’s an arms race between the Britannian army and the Black Knights, spearheaded by Lloyd Asplund for the Brittannian side (I cheered when he sauntered on-screen this episode, because he’s hilarious and awesome and other hyperbolic adjectives) and Lakshata Chawla for the Black Knights.

One of the recurring plots of the series that’s only alluded to in passing is that there seems to be a kind of rivalry between these two, such that they’re effectively waging their own war via proxy, though their inventions in trying to counter the other’s latest developments. They’re both hard at work developing countermeasures for the other’s tech and trying to create other, more offensive tech at the same time. I don’t know about you, but I find this barely-hinted-at subplot quite entertaining. We get the bonus of having at least one new technology thrown into the mix every couple episodes or so, throwing a distinct imbalance into the combat. Kallen can’t tear it up with the Guren all the time, and neither can Suzaku and the other Knights of Round do the same with their custom Knightmares. It adds an element of unpredictability into almost every battle, as you never know who’s going to have the technological edge and who’s not going to. We saw this in 6 with the deployment of the aerial version of the Guren, which managed to be just as overwhelmingly powerful as the Guren was the first time Kallen got behind the controls.

Of course, this general sense of instability and one-upsmanship is part and parcel of the whole Code Geass experience. It’s like watching a chess match on ESPN (do they actually show these on ESPN? Does the announcer spend a lot of time saying “He’s thinking, he’s thinking–he touched a pawn! He’s going to move! He’s picked it up an–he changed his mind and put it back down! This, ladies and gentlemen, is one hell of a chess match!” Are there all-female cheerleading squads, or even better, all-male ouendan for the chess players? If not, there should be.)–everything gets planned far in advance and then that one pawn does that accursed en passant move and your plan is trashed and you have to come up with something new, and fast. It’s part of the reason the series is so much fun to watch, and because it’s so much fun to watch, it’s why it’s popular. Which it’s kind of nice to see a Taniguchi Goro series get so much love; I don’t think he’s gotten this much popularity for any of his previous series, even s-CRY-ed and Planetes, which were quite popular but I don’t think they reached that much further out of the internet anime community (and s-CRY-ed barely has a following nowadays, aside from the occasional Radical Good Speed joke, because referencing Straight Cougar never gets old). I think it just goes to show that if you Limiter Release Goro, crazy things happen–good things, but still crazy.

I’m already wondering what craziness he’s going to get up to after Code Geass R2 is over with. The very prospect frightens and tempts me.


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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May 2008
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