Archive for March, 2009

It’s Time for the Beach Epiosde of My Life [vacation hiatus]

Vacation has sprung upon me like Minori upon a hapless Taiga, and, whilst I saw it coming, perhaps, it still struck me by surprise. I don’t think I’ve left very far from home in the past couple years (school and work kept me fairly tied down, to where a “vacation” meant “everyone else but me isn’t in the house so I can have sanity for a few days”), but now, for the next week and change I’ll be in Florida, enjoying the luscious sounds of beach white noise while I (probably) read books and forget that there’s some water nearby. (I’m taking twenty of the things. I will read maybe six or seven at the most. Selection!) I also packed along Honey & Clover for a rewatch, because why not?

Yes I know, I’ve not been writing as much lately–I keep getting hijacked by life, and even though I currently don’t seem to have much of it, I seem to spend more of it doing stuff that doesn’t really fit in here. I also appear to be regaining more of the Solitary Reading for Pleasure Experience®, which can never be a bad thing.

Unfortunately I was hoping to at least get something in before I left, at least about Toradora! (I quite enjoyed the final episode, and the penultimate episode, and the one before the penultimate episode, and so on back to the first episode), as I’ve a thought or two that probably needs to be put into text before the moment passes (plus figuring out if the spinning logo dots are important or if they did that to fool me), but since preparing for a vacation is oftentimes more stressful than the word “vacation” seems to imply, I’ve been unable to.

Maybe I’ll be able to get a post out while I’m gone (there’s a library and we have a really cruddy laptop that can maybe pull off WiFi trickery or at least Notepad and, all else failing, I’m bringing a spiral-bound notebook), but probably not. I feel bad for being somewhat neglectful of this blog anyway (slowblog.jpg seems to be applying ever more to me, it seems; procrastination, what hast thou wrought?), but there’s not much helping it now. If nothing else, the experience of being cooped up with family members for a grueling 32-hour round-trip Drive-A-Thon will simply fuel a desire to hole myself up and pound a keyboard.

By the time you read this, I’ll have left the building (barring the interdiction of Murphy’s Law); but I felt that all three of you who might have cared deserved to at least know why there won’t be anything here for a few weeks. We plan to return on April 5th (next Sunday), but the best-laid plans only go so far.

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Turn-A Gundam: Turning A Fresh Page

"...and within it were all the problems of the world...

Turn-A Gundam ends, as it always does (especially when you’re Tomino), in a psychedelic freakout that might even rival that (in)famous ending to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, albeit with less Thus Sprach Zarathrusta and with more Kagiri Naki Tabiji. (more on music later, it’s an interesting aspect of Turn-A I keep forgetting to address properly)

It also, notably, almost ends in a samurai sword showdown. Not a beam saber showdown. A samurai sword showdown.

As Gym Ghingham unearths the Turn-X, both of the Turn units start to react to one another and begin using the ultimate weapon of doom, the Moonlight Butterfly. Almost as a side effect of the resonance between the two units, the loosely allied factions crumble into even more disparate factions than I can keep track of. I’m pretty sure, by the end, it was Dianna Counter plus Loran, Sochie, Kihel, Miashei and Harry versus nearly everyone else. I’m not entirely sure how Dianna Counter went from “Dianna sucks let’s have a coup d’etat” to “We love you Dianna please come back” in the space of 13 episodes (I suspect the death of Agrippa Maintainer as much as I do Tomino ex Machina), but there you go.

More importantly, perhaps, is the nature of the Black History: namely, the Universal Century. Of course, that’s not all–the three AU Gundam series made prior to Turn-A‘s release (G, W, and X) are referenced. I admit I’m not that good enough to remember/catch the W and X references myself (I think someone had the Harmonica Cannon from X, and I think I saw Wing Zero at one point, but I’ve no idea what Wing Zero looks like so…). The basic, implicit premise is that, in Correct Century, war has been repeated over and over again, hence the repeated insistence that various characters not repeat the mistakes of the past. Of course, then again, the Black History itself was sealed off and known only to a few. And then there’s that old saw about those who do not learn from history being doomed to repeat it.

Of course, by broadcasting the Black History to everyone, Dianna ensures that all know of and understand the Black History’s repeated sequence of war after war after war, and can now hopefully learn from it and not repeat it. There’s probably a meta-joke here, about how Dianna starts the healing process towards peace by essentially forcing everyone to watch Mobile Suit Gundam, but I won’t make it, even if I just did.

And building on the “Miltonian conflict” between the Turn-A and the Turn-X discussed earlier [->], I still say that the Turn-A (at least in Loran’s hands) represents the force of peace, and the Turn-X represesnts the force of chaos (or war, or what have you), but even if they stand for each other’s moral opposites, they both, essentially have the same effect: the Turn-A can easily be used in a peaceful way, but it can just as easily–and almost by its very programming–be used for war. Worse, the Turn-A left the Turn-X with a battle scar the last time they dueled, and, as Gundam teaches us, if you get a scar, you have to seek vengeance on who gave it to you, no matter what. The essential effect is that, even if Turn-A is fighting for peace–even if its pilot wants to end war forever, without resorting to the Moonlight Butterfly–it still brings about war and destruction. Hence the Moonlight Butterfly: the ultimate peace enforcer, it just wipes everything out and says “TRY AGAIN [Y/N].”

What does happen in the end, though–whether metaphysically influenced by Loran’s use of the Turn-A throughout the whole series, or simply the nature of its default programming following a close encounter with the Turn-X–is the two unit’s Moonlight Butterfly effects literally reforming a cocoon around the two units (and, incidentally, sucking Gym Ghingnham up with them) and creating a virtual Pandora’s Egg for the twin warriors of war and peace. This description, of course, might seem to imply that Gym Ghingnham is the personification of Hope, but note that Loran seemed to evade the tendrils of the formation. Rather than a “creation”, then, perhaps it’s a “re-sealing” of Pandora’s Box, leaving Hope on the outside, wearing a stylish white pilot suit and clutching a broken sword.

Even though Turn-A Gundam was made in 1999, long before SEED and 00 were even contemplated, Turn-A is probably best seen as the conclusion to the whole Gundam cantos (can you tell I’ve been reading Dan Simmons [->] lately?), the moment where the endless wars of Gundam fame are finally laid to rest, and people get on with more important things, like “roleplaying Henry David Thoreau and/or Ralph Waldo Emerson” and “building buildings” and “not marrying Sochie” [->] (oops how did that last one slip in there?). A capstone, if you will–certainly fitting for Tomino’s last entry into the Gundam franchise (unless he’s persuaded otherwise).

A NOTE ON THE MUSIC

I think, perhaps, my favorite part about the soundtrack–probably my favorite of Yoko Kanno’s, not that I’m a SUPER-EXPERT on Yoko Kanno’s prolific output–is the constand weaving of folk/ethnic/native musical themes into the soundtrack (I am going to call it “folk’ even if it isn’t, so TAKE THAT musical snartypants) . The first opening sequence [->] starts with throat singing of the words “Turn A” (and you don’t get more folkcore than throat singing, let me tell you), and many of the background pieces have a decidedly folk bent, especially the ones surrounding the Moon Hippies who have an extremely shamanic chant motif. The many versions of the second ending theme (“Tsuki no Mayu”/”Moon’s Cocoon”), too, are impressively folkish, with its rhythmic, entrancing drumbeats.

The nature of Turn-A lends itself well to the running folk themes, with its tale of death and rebirth, and the cyclical nature of everything sounding very much like animistic/spiritual teachings of various aboriginal cultures (you know, the ones who were going along just fine until some white devils showed up ….sound a bit familiar, perhaps?). Even Vicinity (and maybe Nocis City) had elaborate shamanistic rituals for the “coming of age” that centered around the White Doll/Turn-A.

In short: my rewatch of Turn-A Gundam was quite fruitful indeed. I think I have a deeper understanding of why I find it among the best Gundam series, something I think I felt innately when I first watched it, but, perhaps, not truly understood until later.

Or maybe I just really like pseudo-religio-spiritio-mythological mumbo-jumbo. This no doubt makes me a Nut Job, I am sure.

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).

Eureka Seven: Seven Swell? More Like Seven Crescendo

There are only SIX colors in the Seven Swell! No wonder it was called the Summer of Love.

I'm pretty sure that's not ROY G. BIV order, but that's okay.

Alas, “Seven Crescendo” is not quite as delightfully alliterative, and anyway the Seven Swell Effect isn’t much of a crescendo, even though Eureka Seven is.

Upon my seemingly never-ending plate of “series to rewatch” that has accumulated over the past few years (and is currently almost obliterating the notion of watching “newer series” for the time being) is now Eureka Seven, a series that I’ve looked forward to rewatching since I finished watching it the first time, in 2006. Eureka Seven places high on my list of “series that had an emotional impact on me”; indeed, I remember finding it hard to watch or read anything for several days in the wake of watching the final 15 or so episodes in one go. I also remember, the Monday after, nearly breaking down in tears while driving just because “Nirvash typeZERO” from the soundtrack was playing.

Upon revising the series, even after many of the specifics have faded from memory, I now better understand the reasoning behind the Tokyo Anime Fair’s award to Eureka Seven for “Best Screenplay”. One of the most common criticisms I’ve seen launched at Eureka Seven is that, for one reason or another, the early episodes of the series are “uninteresting”. It’s easy to understand why this is held against it, as many of the early episodes are, essentially, Renton and His Comical Misadventures Aboard the Gekko. To someone promised awesome with Eureka Seven, the early episodes are frequently a letdown, it seems, depending on what the individual’s definition of “awesome” entails. Does it entail cool surfing robot fights? Well, they tend to be disappointed, as there’s not a whole lot of that; but for those with more interest in characters than cool surfing robot fights come out almost equally disappointed, for there seems to be too much of the robots and not enough of the characters. And let’s not even talk about those for whom the phrase “surfing robot fights” should never be preceded by the adjective “cool“, ever.

What happens is that in addition to the wacky antics of Maurice, Maeter, and Linck annoying the bejezus out of Renton, of Renton being hazed repeated by the other Gekkostate members are tiny bits of foreshadowing and character development. Holland throws Renton in the brig after he tries to rectify the mistake Eureka’s children mad–and Maurice, Maeter, and Linck follow him into the brig, to serve their due punishment as well as afford Renton some well-deserved respect for taking the heat they would have gotten otherwise. Most of those I knew during Eureka Seven‘s heyday had nothing but burning hatred for Eureka’s three “children” (mostly, it seems, for their habit of crying in a chain-reaction…just like real kids do); while their role might be small, they, with everyone else, demonstrate early shades of their personality beyond being a thorn in Renton’s side.

Kids on a spaceship: Not just for Gundam anymore.

Perhaps most telling is the rather rapid decline and fall of Holland from suave, unspeakably cool counterculture figure to, well, a man who had his growth interrupted by the military. Even this early, the idolized Holland Renton has in his mind is slowly disintegrating as Holland proves himself to be…well, Holland. Even as Renton anguishes over Eureka seeing him in the elaborate hazing ritual Stoner and Hap put him through, lamenting his perceived (and false) “uncoolness”, Holland watches Renton’s escapades in his underwear in near-total darkness, drinks a beer, has a slight snicker, scratches himself, turns it off, and admits his own uncoolness. There’s a lot more at work than Holland simply being a callous bastard (his relationship with Renton’s sister Diane, for instance, the complicated interplay involving Eureka, and the lingering menace of Dewey, among many others), but the point is pretty clear: Holland might talk tough about being “mature” and “grown-up” and forcibly tries to knock sense into Renton , but it’s difficult to tell which of the two have the greater share of growing up to do.

While I doubt that scripts for every episode was written well in advance of the production, there’s a definite feeling that most of the series was planned in vague terms long before they first placed stylus to tablet. Indeed, for me, the pacing of Eureka Seven is nearly perfect for a 50-episode, four-season series: it’s a slow, gradual buildup that rewards, rather than a 50-episode sequence of instant-gratification. I was interested from the first episode, but it was only around episode 9 that my nascent taste-awareness confirmed my initial judgment. The narrative structure has more than a few echoes in Xam’d: while shorter, Xam’d was well-paced and carried the same near-mythical ethereal feeling Eureka Seven has, as well as the feeling that events in the series are on a track set by fate that the characters are simultaneously fulfilling and overcoming.

And this time, the 60s/70s counterculture references are leaping at me in full force. Maybe it was the semi-oblivious mindset I first watched the series in; I caught the Summer of Love reference but all else blew past or was noticed but forgotten in the course of the story. Indeed, with the pile bunkers, the world setup itself is a huge counterculture reference: the government literally pins down the Scub Coral to prevent them from uprising by driving the pile bunkers into the ground (although this seems to have little effect). Even the governmental logo–a hand maintaining a firm grip on a pile bunker–is more than a little reminiscent of The Man keepin’ people down.

The environmental aspect of the series even gets a kick-start early on–the Compac Drives especially, which I never really managed to (consciously) figure out or understand the first time through. They’re more or less products of the Scub Coral, manufactured by humanity, and harmonize with the Trapar flow to enable machinery to work. And they seem to run better, or at least get more active than boring green, in the presence of deep affection or love of some kind–or, more specifically, I suppose, harmony. The harmony doesn’t necessarily have to be with the planet or Scub Coral itself, but just present; feelings of dischord seem to either lower functionability or break the Drive entirely. Sounds corny and overly hippie, yes, but I highly enjoy it; you have to remember that I highly enjoyed the ending to Dan Simmon’s The Fall of Hyperion which is quite similar. And it still leaves open the question of what Desperation Disease is, although that’s a much later concern of the series.

Alas, I am only on the tenth episode of the rewatch, so I’m going to be mum for a while until I can at least find something solid to grasp upon rather than meander around the dense thematic world of Eureka Seven and trip over a root that I didn’t realize was there. There’s a lot to cover, and past trends point towards the fact that I probably won’t get anywhere near a properly scholarly treatment (or, at least, as close to a properly scholarly treatment that the Internetoblogohedron ever gets) of the variegated thematic structures of Eureka Seven, so I won’t worry too much about that, even if I’ll always feel like I’m leaving out something deeply interesting because I’m tired from investigating everything else that’s deeply interesting.

Turn-A Gundam: Gym Ghingnham and the Sippy Teacup of Doom

I still find it hilarious that the most evil man in Turn-A Gundam has a sippy teacup. Its zero-G, yes, but...sippy teacup?

I still find it hilarious that the most evil man in Turn-A Gundam has a sippy teacup. It's zero-G, yes, but...sippy teacup?

It is with a heavy sort of heart that I notice that, in Turn-A Gundam, there only seem to be three people who actually seem to want actual peace: Loran, Harry, Dianna, and Kihel. Considering that, at this point in time, the latter two are essentially the same person, this does not seem to be a very good situation to be in.

In fact, by this point (episode 40), I don’t think there’s a single group of people larger than about ten people who aren’t also working at cross purposes, even if they are “allied” with other groups of people. Dianna Counter has more or less betrayed their namesake for a coup d’etat and are functioning on different aims than the Agrippa Maintainer faction (which itself doesn’t have the greatest control of its elements) despite being set up by them; Luzianna and Guin Lineford seem to be on shaky ground most of the time, even if Lily Borjanon sticks around Guin and the Militia and the Suicide Squad cooperate with each other easily. Even in the “Loran and Dianna faction”, everyone has different motives, and even Harry Ord seems to be operating counter to Loran’s expectations.

And then Gym Ghingnham shows up with his Evil Sippy Teacup and an actually menacing object: the Turn-X. If the Turn-A is the famed White Devil of Black History memory, then the Turn-X is humanity’s savior in giant green Gundam form. As Gym conveniently expositions to us, in a voice that could only belong to Takehito Koyasu, the Turn-A and Turn-X are brothers and enemies–the X of Turn-X is literally the Turn-A’s symbol stacked on top of a similar A to produce an X–and, since both have been reawakened, both must now, as in the Black History, duel for the fate of humanity. The “rivalry” is deeply ingrained in the systems of the two units: Turn-A’s systems seem to respond almost innately to the Turn-X, much as it responded automatically when Dianna Counter botched the landing process on Earth.

Like Turn-A and Turn-X, Dianna and Kihel are two sides of the same coin--but they work in tandem, whereas the Turn-A and Turn-X work. (also pointless picture break)

Like Turn-A and Turn-X, Dianna and Kihel are two sides of the same coin--but they work in tandem, whereas the Turn-A and Turn-X work. (also pointless picture break)

In fact, in stark contrast to the AU Five Gundam Rule gold standard, and SEED and G’s cornucopia of Gundam units, Turn-A gives us two Gundam units, that are mortal enemies: one for progress and one for destruction. The Black History seems to indicate that the Turn-A is the Devil and the Turn-X the Savior…but who’s piloting them now? Loran uses the Turn-A far, far more for things that don’t involve destruction (and tries to avoid as much combat as he can); even the nuclear bombs he carried after the disaster at Lost Mountain that claimed Gavane Gooney’s life were used for positive means. As if gratifying the terrible burden in Turn-A’s chest Loran had borne (SYMBOLISM and that actually just occured to me now) Loran uses the nuclear warheads to prevent the destroyed Mistletoe colony from destroying the Moon’s capital. Turn-A is now some kind of hippie Gundam, in stark contrast to the Moon Hippies who violate all kinds of hippie rules left and right. Meanwhile, the Turn-X is in the broad, strong hands of the impeccably handsome Gym Ghingnham, who, quite unlike the romance novel model he is so often compared to, is anything but a kind, sensitive individual with an endearingly rough exterior; he opted for the “rough exterior”, decided against the endearing bit (this is extrinsically debatable but intrinisically a fact), and then forgot to get an interior. Joy.

It seems as if the pieces have been set for an epic Miltonic clash of Gundam proportiuon (a clash that will be quite unlike G Gundam, the most explicitly Biblical fanservice Gundam series of them all), except that, apparently, Paradise has already been Lost before (perhaps even several times over!! pseudo-spoilers!!) and it seems as if the table has been turned while no one was looking, sticking the Gundam units on the opposite sides and causing everyone else to move to odd places that they shouldn’t be in but are.

On a lighter note:

what.

what.

I note with relish that Turn-A Gundam is one of Tomino’s more light-hearted entries into the Gundam cantos, always a risky prospect with Gundam fans and with Tomino himself, apparently. But Turn-A seems to pull it off with Neo-Tomino stylings. I’ve not seen ZZ Gundam nor Victory Gundam (nor Daitarn 3, nor Xabungle, nor Vifam, nor…) so I’ve no idea how Shin-Tomino handled the “not being serious” thing, but if Turn-A‘s humor fails I forgive it because everything’s so patently ridiculous I don’t mind too much. I mean, we have Moon Hippies. We have Aztec analogues that worship a mass driver. Harry Ord has awesome if ridiculous sunglasses. I don’t think I know if it’s Tomino trying to be funny and failing or Tomino trying to be funny and suceeding (or how much is which), but it’s so far-fetched at times that I can’t help but love it. Even if the series itself is fairly serious, it doesn’t take itself seriously–a commendable fact that will frighten off as many viewers as it might attract for same, alas.

I now move towards the final episodes of the rewatch; I know what happens, and yet I feel like I don’t know. It’s oddly more…rewarding the second time through, perhaps because I paid more attention to different things than the first time through. Or explicitly thought about things I’d only felt unconsciously.

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.


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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