Archive for the 'a-i' Category

Cowboy Bebop THE REWATCHENING

[IMPORTANT HELPFUL NOTE: It may amuse (some of) you to imagine me as a tall, lanky, blonde American, bedecked with cowboy hat and riding spurs, perched upon a horse which happens to be in an elevator at the current moment. You might also want to whistle a bit. Perhaps this will set you in the correct mood for this post, my position, and my general capabilities regarding the following.]

As I have promised for approximately five years, I have rewatched Cowboy Bebop, a series which has caused me no small amount of largely inexplicable consternation over the eight years it has been since I first watched it on one lonely August day when I probably should have been running around outdoors and overturning rocks to see what sort of disgusting things lie under them (either worms or communal copies of Playboy, depending on who you ask). This consternation is largely founded on the fact that I manage to evade the extremes of opinions about Cowboy Bebop: I neither worship it as the feather of truth that the hearts of other anime must be weighed against, nor do I revile it as some kind of impure anime too tainted by Western influences to qualify as “true anime”. I exaggerate, of course, but I’ve never really felt like I ought to throw my weight behind the “why can’t we have more anime like Cowboy Bebop?” position. I’m not even sure that the opposite position exists, as Cowboy Bebop seems to be so universally beloved of nearly everyone that assessing it as anything less than a superlative example of the fine art of Japanese animation takes on the air of trying to explain to the Pope that maybe these “indulgence” things aren’t the best idea.

Part of the problem is, of course, is that Cowboy Bebop is actually an extremely polished, highly enjoyable series. The cast is likable, the animation is fluid, most every episode is well-structured, and Shinichiro Watanabe pulls it all off without batting an eye. I had forgotten, in the Eight Year Exodus, that many of the episodes are just sheer, gleeful fun: the comic episodes were always my favorites, especially “Stray Dog Strut” and “Mushroom Samba”, and I noticed this time around that Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV is far more horribly underused than I remembered, taking a back seat to nearly everything (this is a travesty and I demand the spinoff). Even episodes such as “Speak Like a Child” and “Hard Luck Woman” that blend comedy with more dramatic events work well for me, although that might just be the peculiarities of the themes they deal with.

The more dramatic episodes and moments, though, are the ones that stymie me the most. The episodes that deal specifically with Spike’s backstory and ultimate BANG tend to leave me constantly checking the time remaining on the episode and wanting to send a letter back in time to the staff that reads “Yes, I get what you’re doing here thematically. Get on with it.” Possibly the worst offender is actually “Ganymede Elegy”; the second half of the episode felt as though the series were doing everything short of holding up a cue card that reads “BE SAD AND EMOTIONALLY MOVED HERE” to get the viewer to feel emotion, veering dangerously close to blunt force trauma with Tragic Narrative with Thematic Resonance. It’s moments like this—where characters are impelled along their paths by the mechanized workings of Theme—where any subtlety that may or may not be present is lost or disregarded through the blatantly mechanical operations of the plot’s thematic ends.

These episodes tend to feel emotionally flattened and dead to me. The mode fits well with the major themes of the work: the characters are living a half-existence, suppressing their emotions as they’re thrust forward on the linear rails of fate dictated by the events in their pasts. It’s also styled with the classic Hemingwayean hardboiled style, quite common in noir fiction and film: depict the actions of the characters truly enough, and the audience will perceive and feel the emotions underneath.

Something about the flat deadness of the hardboiled style tends to turn me off it, though: in Cowboy Bebop, I can perceive the emotions under the surface, I can understand from whence they come, and I can feel sympathy for the characters, but, with a few exceptions, I can’t seem to bring myself to really care a great deal about all of this. I don’t feel wrenched, or even a vague sorrow, but as though I am merely abstractly noting that a person feels a certain way. The exceptions—Faye watching the Betamax tape from her youth, Ed leaving the Bebop after her prodigal father—may be due to similarities from my own experiences or even just thematic familiarity from previous stories I have read and watched.

Still, at the end of the day, any real issues I have with Cowboy Bebop are largely dependent on my own personal idiosyncrasies, symptomatic not of issues within the series itself but of individual aesthetics. I have scarcely a complaint with how the series tends to let the cast pinball around within the confines of an episode; the rest seems simply a mismatching of formal aesthetics. Everything is handled exactly the way Watanabe wants it to be handled, and it snaps together nicely, but the way Watanabe handles things and the way I make personal connections to stories just don’t jibe well, and it’s disingenuous to shift responsibility to the series because of that.

Nevertheless, it seems to be the dividing line between my reserved but high opinion of the series and the adulation and idolization that I sometimes see for the series. I can easily understand why someone might feel so fervently about the series to make it their favorite series, or even a benchmark series for quality anime, but I cannot feel it for myself. It is a conscious, knowing appreciation, and not a gut-level appreciation, and that, I fear, makes all the difference.

As a sort of last-minute parting shot, it’s also possible I find myself identifying more with the characters who accept the burden of their past and face the future, rather than those who are more a prisoner of their pasts. I also note, with some amusement, that the two major characters who resolve to face the future—Faye and Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV alias Françoise—are female, while Jet seems to remain in present-day stasis and Spike, well, BANGs. I can’t tell if this is an angle worth serious thematic exploration, or even if I’m qualified to tackle it, but it struck me as interesting.

Glass Mask (2005): NEW ROLES ARE BORN FROM PAIN.

When I started poking around Crunchyroll several months ago, the first oddity I noticed was not that they carried Fist of the North Star or even Galaxy Express 999, but that they were streaming the 2005 anime adaptation of Suzue Miuchi’s classic (and still-running) manga from 1976, Glass Mask. I had wanted to see this particular adaptation (or, better yet, the 1984 version) since I heard about it, but, alas, those were the days when you were required to rely upon the vagaries of fansubbers for semi-obscure series such as this one, and, to my knowledge, there wasn’t a complete set of fansubs out for either the 1984 or the 2005 version (honestly, though, there might be some VHS fansubs of the 1984 Glass Mask floating around). Not wanting to start a series that I had no hopes of completing within a reasonable timeframe, I elected to wait until access to the whole series came about.

Now that I’ve finally managed to start it and get a decent distance into it, I can honestly and objectively say that Glass Mask is most likely the most exciting—excuse me, EXCITING—anything about acting that you will ever see, hear, or read.

I could probably just end this post there, but I realize the audacity of that statement and so I feel compelled to justify it somewhat.

Glass Mask tells the story of Maya Kitajima, a young middle-schooler with the innate ability to memorize and recite lines of a play after hearing them only once. This ability places her in the sights of horrifically disfigured former actress Chigusa Tsukikage, the one actress who has played the legendary role of the Crimson Goddess and the one person with the rights to authorize another person to play the eponymous role for the long-unperformed production. Tsukikage (who dresses entirely in black, has Magic Hair that covers up her disfiguring eye injury delivered from a falling spotlight, and should really lay off her pack-a-day habit) is now an embittered woman, but in Maya she sees the raw potential that she can mold like clay into the Perfect Actress who can finally accurately portray the Crimson Goddess.

This is (was) the most beautiful actress in the world.

There are two things standing in Maya’s path to fulfill this goal, though: one, her family, who collectively thinks it’s a great idea to force Maya to deliver 99 ramen bowl sets in three hours so she can have a ticket to attend a play (this ticket, it should be noted, is promptly thrown into the icy waters of Tokyo Bay by a vengeful sister and Maya nearly catches her death of hypothermia trying to retrieve it); and two, Ayumi Himekawa, an actress of considerable talent who declares herself Maya’s rival (Maya, on the other hand, could care less about rivalship) and generally is part of the villainous director Hajime Onodera’s elaborate schemes to wrest control of the Crimson Goddess play away from Tsukikage by crushing her hopes at every possible turn.

The first obstacle is quite easily dispensed with, as apparently all it takes after Maya is accepted into Tsukikage’s troupe is an incident where Maya’s enraged mother throws a conveniently placed kettle of boiling water upon Tsukikage, following which all letters of apology and/or correspondence from Maya’s mother are immediately consigned to the flames by Tsukikage.

The second obstacle has yet to be surmounted in over thirty years, but experts predict that this might soon be finally overcome.

Matters are, of course, complicated by such pesky things as the fact that Onodera’s producer, the suavely handsome Masumi Hayami, presents himself as an antagonist to both Tsukikage and Maya, but secretly sends Maya purple roses as her secret admirer (ostensibly of her acting skills but c’mon it’s 70s shoujo).

Speaking of 70s shoujo, the 2005 Glass Mask anime remake perfectly captures the particular brand of shoujo that was in vogue in the 70s: the ridiculously over-melodramatic narrative. Glass Mask 2005 does not have the almost joyous panache found in Osamu Dezaki’s adaptations of Riyoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles and Brother, Dear Brother, but instead forswears the ostentation of dramatic chords and quadruple takes for a much more subtly grandiose tone. Insomuch as grandiose can be considered “subtle”. In fact let’s just scrap all these giant words and just say that it plays it much straighter than either Rose of Versailles or Brother, Dear Brother.

You know you're a serious, hardcore actor when your irises and pupil disappear for dramatic effect.

Playing it straighter, however, doesn’t diminish the fact that Maya is pretty much the sole practitioner of what I have come to term hardcore acting, which I can only describe as the acting equivalent of the title role in a Sylvester Stallone film. Tsukikage is perhaps the most ridiculously demanding drama instructor ever, requiring Maya to go to such extremes as living as though she were Beth from Little Women for a week so that she would live, breathe, move, think, and act exactly as Beth did, thereby making sure that her role as Beth was pitch-perfect.

That isn’t even one of the more extreme examples either. I have seen 14 episodes out of 51 total and I have yet to see something that could possibly top locking Maya in the storage shed for two days and then spending the next five days straight having an acting battle while standing in the falling snow coughing up blood. I find this rather hard to imagine getting topped later in the series, but my past experience with 70s shoujo instructs me otherwise. In any other reality that isn’t the Glass Mask reality I’d be wondering why the social workers haven’t shown up and slapped Tsukikage with a child abuse charge or eighty, and a restraining order to boot.

Perhaps the only real complaint I’d raise specifically against the 2005 adaptation (other than the lackluster visuals) is that it’s paced at breakneck speed. I often feel that I’ve somehow missed an episode between episodes (even when I’m watching them one after the other), and there is a tendency to engage in some serious summarization (which has only really cropped up around episode 10), even of the pivotal acting scenes. That said, when they do spend considerable time with an actual performance (most notably Maya’s performance of a fourteen-actor play by herself) the result is highly EXCITING acting, replete with shocked reactions from the audience and running commentary by fellow troupe members and other important characters.

There, sadly, isn’t much more I can really say about Glass Mask, because most of what’s good about it is hard to put in words that aren’t mostly comprised of capital letters. It is an EXCITING experience unto itself, and one that must be seen to be properly appreciated. Whether you’re a diehard shoujo fan, or somehow convinced that all shoujo is composed of quotidian romance plotlines, or looking for a way to dip your toe into the waters of 70s shoujo in preparation for a journey to Versailles, Glass Mask is worth a shot. Now if only we could get the manga licensed over here…

If this doesn't make at least a small number of you want to watch this series, I don't know what will.

Aim for the Top! 2: A True Nonoriri Has a Buster Machine in Her Heart!

YOU GONNA GET HOMING LASERD

YOU GONNA GET HOMING LASER'D

I am going to invoke the authority of both Noriko and the iconic crossed arms stance of Aim for the Top! (or Gunbuster or Top o Nerae! or whatever you feel like) as I say this potentially controversial statement:

As a long-time fan of GunbusterDiebuster is amazing.

There. The deed is done. I put them on the same level. Now come, Galactic Monsters!

Gunbuster is simultaneously a paean to and a pastiche of anime, an apex of sorts of fanfiction, where Hideaki Anno and the rest of Gainax took bits and pieces from anime they loved and synthesized their tribute to it; their own attempt, as it were, at aiming for the top. By and large they succeeded; the story of Noriko, who gains inner strength even as she remains perpetually 15 due to the effects of time dilation, has endured and maintained its popularity in the twenty years since the release of the first episode. But this post is not about Aim for the Top!: Gunbuster. This post is about Aim for the Top! 2: Diebuster.

At first glance, Diebuster is an entirely different beast than its predecessor: the world of Gunbuster is fairly straightforward and relatively grounded in science (even going so far as to include, as omake, science lessons), whereas Diebuster almost immediately dispenses with any pretension of scientific accuracy and stretches the suspension of disbelief to the limit (and then some). If Gunbuster is reality, then Diebuster is surreality. Gunbuster is about the strengths of youth; Diebuster, its weaknesses. And yet, even with the very different moods that both engender in the viewer, the spirit remains the same, if manifested two very different ways in two very different decades.

Whereas Gunbuster had Noriko remaining forever 15 throughout its 12,000 year span, and therefore able to claim the strengths and idealism of youth, Diebuster offers us the Topless Squadron: young teenagers who are the only humans powerful enough to pilot the Buster Machines, but remain sealed. But they cannot leave the solar system due to the Red Milky Way of the Space Monsters, and so they cannot enjoy the time dilating effects as Noriko did, and so they are left, stranded, to grow up in a world where they must age and lose their ability as Topless, and then continue living as hollow shells of normal humans, bereft of the power they once tasted. Some adjust to this new reality well, others poorly, but none are left unaffected–and none particularly feel like giving up what they will eventually lose.

Enter Nono. As a robot, Nono’s mental age is perpetually locked somewhere around the age of 9, even as her body ages over ten millennia. As a result, she is perpetually Topless, the ideal state for the currently disaffected Topless who immediately share some degree of envy for her. She idolizes who she refers to as Nonoriri (Noriko), who she freely admits she has never seen, and who functions as a sort of God for her. Although Nono is capable of amazing feats of physical strength–the moment, for instance, at the end of the first episode where she ripped her shirt exactly as Noriko did and unleashed a Lightning Kick on the hapless Space Monster caused so much inter-generational fanboy glee for me that words may not suffice–her true strength lies not in the physical but in the interpersonal. Ebullient, childish, and cheerful to a fault, Nono invites the members of the Topless Squadron to reacquaint themselves with idealism and engage in a bit of introspection. Nowhere is this more evident in episode 3, where Nono confronts the floundering, apathetic, and pained Tycho, leading Tycho to awaken the newest Buster Machine and subsequently work through her own catharsis.

YOU GONNA GET BUSTER MACHINE'D

But Nono’s true identity is not that of an ordinary robot, but of Buster Machine #7, a humanoid Buster Machine that can also command and control the drone-like Buster Squad (or the Space Monsters as I haven’t really gotten quite clear on to what Nono’s henchmen are). As Buster Machine #7, Nono is ridiculously powerful, but also ridiculously uncontrollable. She barrages with immature passion and complete disregard for herself; even as the enormous Diebuster, her lack of focus prevents her from defeating the gravity well Space Monster that has attached itself to Noriko’s singularity. In short, her massive potential for physical power is largely ineffectual. But Nono / Buster Machine #7 sums it up best: a true Nonoriri has a Buster Machine in her heart–providing, coincidentally, a handy explanation for her own interpersonal abilities. That which drives a Buster Machine–a symbol for the ability to effect change globally, locally, or, perhaps most importantly, personally–is not age but feelings, feelings that tend to be ground out of people as they grow older. It makes explicit themes of Gunbuster: Noriko did not have limitless power due to youth, per se, but from the pure, idealistic nature of her heart fostered by youth. Rather than the Buster Machines enacting change, it is the humans piloting the Buster Machine that enact the change.

But it doesn’t stop there. Lal’C, the Kazumi to Nono’s Noriko and closer to the main character of Diebuster than Nono is, has her own role to play. Nono’s power as Buster Machine #7 are, indeed, limitless, but it takes Lal’C–after Dix-Neuf removes the horn that blocked access to the true cockpit in its brain–to provide focus and guidance for the unfocused Nono. It’s the perfect balance: the aimless thrashings of a passionate heart that is sometimes effectual and sometimes not, and the unfeeling mind that is reluctant to grasp passion and is therefore restricted in what the intellect can do alone. Paired together in the form of a Double Lightning Kick, the two are far more powerful than they are separate. And, in the end, even though Nono vanishes into a singularity in order to prevent the destruction of the solar system that she and Lal’C fought to protect, she leaves behind with Lal’C the Buster Machine that powers her heart. Nono, in the end, is weaker and more ephemeral than the ideal eternal Topless of the first half, but what she brings about has lasting impact: true eternal Toplessness and a sense of purpose.

YOU GONNA GET DOUBLE LIGHTNING KICKD

YOU GONNA GET DOUBLE LIGHTNING KICK'D

As a sort of postscript, it should be known that I wrote this entire post with my arms crossed.

I also suggest reading (with your arms crossed, of course) the excellent Gunbuster liner essays in the DVD set [->] (there are three essays), which I’m sure you have if you own the DVD set and I’m sure you haven’t if you don’t own the DVD set. (Surely someone has scanned or at least typed them up somewhere for those with less scruples to intellectually enjoy? If not they should be).

Also, Pontifus’s post on Diebuster and ironimythical theory [->] often has nothing whatsoever to do with Diebuster in specific but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have points that could abet an understanding of Diebuster and possibly other things (or at least prove to be smashingly and intellectually  entertaining, as only Northrup Frye + Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann can be).

Hakaba Kitaro: Dances With Mononoke

I think the world needs more Denki Groove OP themes. [->] And I couldn’t resist the bad title joke-pun once I thought of it.

Hakaba Kitaro is probably the closest I’ll get to reading the original Mizuki Shigeru GeGeGe no Kitaro manga (unless some kind soul is translating it in some capacity that I am not aware of), which isn’t exactly a bad thing. I went into the series expecting a grim, gritty kind of horror, a complete 180 from the kid-friendly GeGeGe franchise–in other words, I was expecting more of Poltergeist rather than Ghostbusters. I was therefore very pleasantly surprised to see that, contrary to my baseless expectations due to unfamiliarity (and a bit of misleading pre-airing descriptions) that the whimsical nature of GeGeGe was retained, simply with a darker edge.

Essentially a short episodic showcase for various monsters of various countries’ traditions seen through the eye of Shigeru (and , Hakaba moves quickly from incident to incident. Despite the episodic structure, the series maintains a linear flow, with each episode playing off elements left unexplored in the previous episode and frequently setting up the story for the next episode. Each episode also usually ends in some kind of ironic twist for the central side characters, especially when they refuse to pay heed to Kitaro’s advice regarding nearly everything. Human characters who become interested in the paranormal generally end up getting sucked into hell or some other terrible fate through their own actions (a notable exception being Shigeru himself in a mind-bending meta-episode), and the unfortunate yokai who cross Kitaro’s path also tend to get their comeuppance as victims of themselves more than anything else.

The big draw is less “what happens” in each episode so much as reveling in the left-of-center takes on mythical monsters, partly in the personalities and partly in the artistic designs (a werewolf becomes, for instance, a refined and cultivated gentleman from England–top hat, monocle, and all). Not to mention that frequently the monsters themselves are just plain bizarre: the Water God episode, for instance, has the Water God breaking loose and wreaking havoc by dissolving people (but leaving their finely made Italian swimsuits). Vampire trees, guitar-playing Johnny-in-the-Mists, and catgirls taken literally (I hold an undying love for Neko Musume in all of her incarnations) all make an appearance in the surreal rogue’s gallery. The only major recurring characters are Kitaro, his father, and the utterly disgusting Rat Man; others fade in and out, staying for a couple episodes at most.

Yes, Shigeru actually draws like this. The 50s were awesome.

Yes, Shigeru actually draws like this. The 50s/60s were awesome.

Visually, the series is a treat: Takashi Kurahashi stays fairly close to Shigeru’s original art style and updates it somewhat for a 00s audience while (of course) still being the same texture-obsessed Kurashashi Mononoke fans know and love. The OP sequence consists entirely of panels from the original manga (or panels drawn to resemble the original manga, I cannot tell which), which are all eventually shown in the series proper. Even discarding the more progressive elements of the artistic direction, Hakaba Kitaro is still quite the standout in modern-day series, and even modern-day adaptations of older (or “visually anachronistic”) series. It almost feels to me like older art styles in their modern-day adaptations sometimes seem to suffer bereft of the cel animation charm, for some reason, but Hakaba Kitaro dodges this issue, possibly because Kurahashi’s style gives it a more “cel” feel in digital. Or maybe I’m just crazy.

On a totally different note, it’s worth noting that Kitaro is a throughly likable character despite being, for most of the series, a thoroughly disturbing individual. As the last member of the Ghost Tribe (save for his father, who is now a bipedal eyeball) I wasn’t expecting him to be about posies and poems, mind, but he’s exactly the kind of child you’d walk to the other side of the street to avoid. In the single episode of the most recent GeGeGe remake I watched, Kitaro’s personality is vastly different–in GeGeGe he seems to be more of the rogue outcast from yokai society who insists on helping humans deal with the more malicious yokai. In Hakaba he seems to be less friendly so much as acting more in his own interest, generally lacking a shred of altruism. It’s a different kind of “anti-hero” than I seem to be used to, almost an anti-anti-hero: most anti-heroes seems to be loathsome of morals but suave of manner, whereas Kitaro is loathsome of manner (and sometimes of moral), but underneath it he’s just a normal kid who doesn’t really know what to do. Except he isn’t normal. And his morals are different. Sometimes. It’s hard to explain, provided I’m not making it up (again).

A rare moment of boyish charm for Kitaro. Such is the power of Neko Musume.

Hakaba Kitaro manages to capture the essence of a beloved classic manga series without being unduly alienating to a modern audience. It’s  a nostalgic piece of Japanese childhood for half a century revisited and updated for those who reluctantly grew up. I can’t really pass any judgement on to how accurately it might have captured the feel of the original manga, but it’s definitely satisfied my curiosity while piquing my interest, which is the least one can expect of a series such as this.

Well, that, and more Neko Musume. (Please?)

Eden of the East: Theories on a Conspiracy, or: Tinfoil Pope Hats


If you’re more interested in general impressions/thoughts rather than tinfoil pope hattery, I direct you to the bottom of the post [->] where you might find a few words to that effect.

Has anyone figured out, really, whether Eden of the East is a pure political suspense/thriller with the working title The Akira Identity [->], a giant Biblical allegory cleverly disguised as a political suspense thriller [->],  or a noitaminA love-love romance series cleverly disguised as a giant Biblical allegory cleverly disguised as a political suspense thriller [->]? It’s all three, as far as I can tell; however, my schooling background of spending far more time reading the Judeo-Christian scriptures than is normally healthy somewhat leads me to get all bouncy and giddy about the onslaught of Biblical allusions that are either helpful in figuring out the deeper meaning and significance of Eden of the East or are just intellectual fanservice put in to excite people such as myself.

The central mystery in Eden of the East revolves around the Selecao System and the Twelve who were Chosen in Japan. It is, quite obviously, a very much Earthbound political conspiracy, one that enjoys wrapping itself in the ancient mythological mystique of Biblical allusions and Messianic imagery. Their purpose, so far as we can tell by episode 3, is to designate twelve Selecao in Japan–twelve, of course, being one of those ridiculously important numbers in Judaic numerology–give them ten billion yen a ridiculously obscene amount of money on a cell phone, charge them all with the task of becoming the Messiah of Japan, and set them against each other. The catch: when their balance hits zero yen, they are unceremoniously dispatched by their attendant agents of Juiz. As a thriller setup, you can’t get much more exciting than that.

Sounds like it’s time for a HISTORY LESSON!

“Messiah” means “one anointed by God”, generally to carry out a specific task (the term was most frequently applied to the priests, prophets, and kings of Israel); the Greek translation is, of course, christos (or χριστός because Greek is a cool-looking language, and because it will please at least one person I know of [->]), and from there to Christ. It is a title more than it is a name, and Jesus of Nazareth was far from the first or only one to bear the title–Cyrus the Great of Persia was even given the title after he conquered Babylon and freed the Jewish people (by “freed” I mean he said “You’re from where? That dinky place next to the Mediterranean? You gonna pay me taxes? Yeah? Okay, whatever, go there, I don’t care.”).

The everyday usage was different from the late Roman Republic days where apocalyptic/eschatologic fever caught hold and stories spread like wildfire of the Messiah, who would come to save all the children of Israel and deliver them from evil (i.e. the Romans, who really just wanted them to pay taxes and shut up). This Messiah was the agent of God in the world and would either bring about the kingdom of God, the end of history, just smite people a lot, or, more frequently, all three, in whatever order they felt like. One of these (for a pronoun preceded by “the” there were an awful lot of them) was Jesus of Nazareth, and…you know the rest.

And you thought I'd forgotten about Eden of the East.

I remain fairly convinced that there is not currently a Jesus-analogue in Eden of the East (if there is, I’m going to guess it’s Juiz, on the basis that 1) Juiz = Judge and 2) it just sounds like the word “Jesus”), but if we think of the twelve Selecao as the Twelve Disciples (never mind the fact that we have at least sixteen individual names for the Twelve Disciples) then some interesting (and probably made-up and/or superimposed by me) analogues rise. The most infamous of the disciples is Judas, of course, who betrayed Jesus into the hands of the Romans and caused him to be executed. The orthodox view on this is that Judas is the Betrayer and broke from Jesus for personal gain (and then, legend goes, committed suicide). The relatively recent discovery of the Gospel of Judas, though, tells a different story: one where Judas was Jesus’ most beloved disciple, and the one who loved Jesus the most…and the one to whom Jesus trusted to betray him in order to bring about the Passion and Resurrection. Has anyone told you recently that the Gnostics were utterly insane? Now you know!

This, then, is my tinfoil pope hat theory: Akira is not supposed to be a Jesus analogue, but a Judas analogue. Unfortunately I only have the vaguest evidence to offer and most of it is merely me hypothesizing the direction of the direction the series will take. The best (and also the most hilariously insane) evidence I have is Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper [->]. Judas is supposedly the fourth from the left in the painting, and (discounting Jesus as a disciple of himself) the ninth from the right. The Fourth Selecao (now deceased) treated himself as a failure to fulfill the requirements of the Selecao System and entrusted Akira with the task of becoming the Messiah of Japan. And what number is Akira, again?

THATS RIGHT.

THAT'S RIGHT.

Even assuming that the numbering (at least for the lamented detective and Akira) is drawn from The Last Supper, the only way to be sure that right-to-left is the right way to count numbers (versus left-to-right) is 1) Eden of the East, and the east is traditionally associated with right in the standard compass rose and 2) Japan and their wacky backwards reading. Whether this is intentional or one of those odd (conspiratorial?) coincidences I cannot say, but the idea of Akira as a Judas figure (or at least as a betrayer) can’t seem to leave my mind, pulled further that he wiped his memory (as if his former self wanted to betray but couldn’t, and so he mindwiped himself instead to give himself a second chance). If you watch the ED, you see Akira doing the Juiz-assisted finger-gun  at the Careless Monday missiles and destroying them–assuming, as those with abundant supplies of tinfoil are wont to do, that the missiles are also the doing of the figures behind the Selecao System, then this is a form of betrayal.

What does it all mean? Am I right or wrong, or am I just making up a lot of nonsense? Unfortunately, it’s only episode 3 of a 11 episode series + movie (which I am assuming was intentional to keep the “episodes” of the story down to 12), so there’s no way of telling what’s going to happen and how it’s all going to fit together. I still can’t figure out why Eden of the East, other than the obvious Akira and Saki being Adam and Eve, but that might take until the conclusion. The idea of Akira as a betrayer-saviour is highly tempting, though, and even if you remove all the complicated religious imagery and gross assumptions he’s still possibly being set up for that narrative purpose. But then, of course, Judas was the betrayer, not the saviour, so if all Akira ends up doing is betraying (but not saving)…who, then, will be the savior? That might be the bigger question.

A bit of a bibliography

I don’t make any claims as to the scholarly accuracy of anything mentioned above (cobbled as it is from my recollections of books read for class and class lectures a year or so ago), but books such as E.P. Sanders’s The Historical Figure of Jesus [->] and Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities [->]  should at least give you a starting point into the mind-melting world of historical Biblical scholarship, and Backgrounds of Early Christianity [->] is a pretty good source (read: my professor made me read it) for simplified but important background information, if you should be interested in an historical look at early Christian times. You certainly don’t hear some of this stuff in Sunday School, anyway.

And in case you’re wondering, yeah, I probably just wanted to play history professor for a bit. I do have a B.A. in it, after all. A man can dream.

—-

The real heart of the series.

The real heart of the series.

Enough with the pseudointellectual babble,  I say!

The appeal of Eden of the East stretches much further than pseudoscholarly allusion/allegory nitpicking. Akira and Saki (their status as Romantic Partners and BAKA TAKIZAWA notwithstanding) are charming, sweet, and have chemistry. Some have said that they could watch an entire series of just Akira and Saki casually talking and they’d still like the series, and I heartily second, third, and fourth that motion. Part of the allure is the fact that they’re both so calm and accepting; indeed, there’s a definite air of calm acceptance (bordering occasionally on sheer naive innocence.) that permeates the entire series. Female police officers hardly blink at being unexpectedly flashed. Careless Monday isn’t worried about because no one’s dying and there’s nothing anyone feels they can do. Akira is pretty nonchalant about the whole “I mindwiped myself” thing. Granted, that does seem to tie in to the whole Eden theme, but the effect it has at the moment is like an odd combination of slice-of-life with a suspense thriller. I expect the mood to be upended by the end of the series, of course (especially if the calm mood is thematically significant), but I must say, I quite enjoy the Mrs. Pollifax “relaxed suspense” vibe I get from these early episodes. [->]

The short of the long is, it’s a series that works equally well on multiple levels, and many of the levels are only peripheral to the comprehension of the narrative, and simply add extra layers, either to aid understanding or to excite giddy intellectual tirades. (one certainly doesn’t need to bust out the education hardcore like I and some others have gone to enjoy the narrative and its complexities) It’s a simply-told (but not simple) story with background layers working and revealing themselves for different audiences. Perhaps that is one of the secrets of its popularity, too: something many can enjoy for different reasons.

Victory Gundam: Standing Up To The Victory

I know what you're thinking, but Shakti is not Lalah. And Usso is not a Char/Amuro lovechild. Right.

What, exactly, can be said about the experience of watching Victory Gundam for the first time? Is it even possible to say something about the Gundam series that ultimately drove an ever more increasingly depressed Tomino into the hospital for severe depression after years of battling Sunrise execs for more creative control over Gundam? Is it even possible that I even might have something to say with regards to the fantastic, schizophrenic mess that is Victory Gundam? I’ve watched nearly 30 episodes at the moment, and yet I still haven’t seemed to find words to frame the experience, even if I’m quite liking what I’m seeing. For, inexplicably, despite all the insanity, the persistent invocation of Tomino ex machina, the utterly weird mechanical designs (a Mobile Suit in a tire?), the rampant deaths, and the utterly bizarre humor, Victory Gundam is fast becoming my favorite UC series, insomuch as it is a “UC” series. Well, okay, for the moment, at least, until I can revisit First Gundam, Zeta, ZZ, and Char’s Counterattack.

I’m also tempted to replace “despite” with “because of”, but I think that’s simply because I lost sanity a while ago. Or gained it. Or something.

At its core, when it’s not trying to do everything else, Victory Gundam is the tale of young children drug almost forcibly into the service of the guerrilla League Militaire. Usso, at 13, is the youngest Gundam protagonist yet, and due to being a Newtype (apparently one born on Earth, too; this is probably due to the hinted-at notion that he is Char’s grandson) is far more effective in the League Militaire’s new unit, the Victory Gundam. I find him to be, if not one of the most likable Gundam protagonists, at least one of the most sympathetic. He feels bound to protect his childhood friend (can it really be a childhood friend if they’re both still children?) Shakti, who clearly loves Usso, although Usso himself would deny both her feelings and his own. Even (and especially) as he insists on saving her from any mild discomfort through the most reckless means available to him.

This sequence from the OP both soothes me and makes me terrified for its symbolic consequences.

Usso and Shakti are probably the sweetest couple I’ve ever seen in a Tomino work; I’ll leave the “believable” for others to argue, but I do think that a large factor in how much I like Victory is the dynamics between these two. There may be better relationship portrayal in Gundam X [->] and others, and there certainly is better in a lot of other series that don’t have the word Gundam in the title, but something–perhaps the youth of the participants, perhaps their simplistic naivete–touches a button that I didn’t expect Victory to touch. Of course, this is Victory Gundam, and so I am merely waiting for when–not if, my heart laments, but whenShakti will be killed in some horribly brutal and meaningless way.

Which brings us to the staggeringly high death toll in Victory Gundam, and its quirky schizophrenic approach. The League Militaire has some of the highest death rates in Gundam history; I forget how bad the casualties were in Zeta, but hardly five episodes can pass in Victory without at least one (and usually two or more) named characters dying, usually horribly and without a real reason. Early on, the branch of the League Militaire Usso travels with gets reinforcements in the form of two more Victory units and the Shrike Team, an all-female Mobile Suit unit whose members all inexplicably have the hots for Usso (who, apparently, is the biggest playboy of the Universal Century at age 13). It’s hardly spoilers to say that they immediately start dying (I think one of them dies the very next episode) since, with the vast number of them introduced all at once a seasoned Gundam veteran will pick them out as cannon fodder right away. Mysteriously, however, the band of kids that follows Usso and the adults (mostly Marbet and Oliver) who shepherd them around have had almost no losses.

All this death, destruction, and public guillotine use (I don’t think they could have possibly picked a scarier instrument of execution than the guillotine for me) adds up for a fairly grim, depressing, tragic series. But there are frequent interludes of amusement, intentional or no. I’ve never really remembered having a problem with Tomino’s admittedly bizarre sense of humor, although at times I don’t know if I’m laughing with him or at him (presuming he laughs, of course). For instance, the whole episode will be grim and serious and yet, at some point, something like this will happen:

Suzy is a highly refined young lady. I think.

Suzy is a highly refined young lady. I think. She at least knows the proper method of displaying her dislike of someone behind their backs.

which leaves me with little recourse but to be vastly amused both at the bit of comedy itself, but even more, it seems, at the absurdity of inserting a moment of humor at an incredibly odd moment. Usso’s harem-esque antics, while being amusing in the “oh you 13-year-old playboy you” way, also tend to be the only time where he’s closest to realizing he likes Shakti in that way.

On top of that, the mechanical designs are certifiably 100% stranger than G Gundam‘s. G might have the Nether Gundam, the Tequila Gundam, the Zeus Gundam, and the Nobel Gundam, but Victory has insectoid Mobile Suits (these are the most normal-looking ones), Mobile Suits that are in giant tires, Mobile Suits that are actually motorcycles, and, my personal favorite, the Victory Gundam itself, trying to impersonate a Valkyrie as best it can [->] (My favorite is actually when the Top is gone, but the Boots are there).

The result, then, is a bizarre mish-mash of moods and concepts; certainly an acquired taste, even to the seasoned Gundam palate. I’d hardly recommend it in general to anyone, Gundam fan or no, but that’s more because it’s so bizarre. Maybe it’s because I tend to pull for the oddballs and wild-cards; maybe it’s because I’m beginning to forgive Tomino my past grievances against him, or because Victory‘s just more my style, since it was made in 1993, much closer to my favorite Tomino works (Turn-A and Overman King Gainer); maybe it’s the totally killer first opening theme [->], which immediately became one of my favorite Gundam OP sequences, both musically and visually;  maybe I’m simply deluding myself. I can’t deny, though, that, rather than the grudging, obligatory task I was half-expecting Victory to be, I instead found something oddly compelling, even gripping. I’ve gone through these episodes much faster than I thought I would, with only a slight break for vacation in the middle. It’s a flawed package and it’s not for everyone, but I quite like it, flaws and all.

The cold hard steel Gundam and the warm heart that guides it and drives it. How, er, symbolic.

Now watch me eat my words after I finish the series. It’s been fairly evenly uneven thus far, so I’ll probably be okay, but one never knows with Tomino sometimes.

Mobile Suit Gundam 00: Closed Circle

I dare you to find a post for the end of Gundam 00 that doesnt use this image somewhere. Its so...screencappable.

I dare you to find a post for the end of Gundam 00 that doesn't use this image somewhere. It's so...screencappable.

Gundam 00 has been, for the certain sort of Gundam fan I am a bit of a ride (that is, if I can term myself a “Gundam fan” as I still don’t know how well I fit the bill despite fitting the bill pretty well). There’s a bit of something for everyone, though, carrying both a message that is easily grasped by those unfamiliar with the franchise’s nooks and crannies and a more subtle message distributed via little specks of Minovsky GN pixie dust particle intertext aimed more at the fans in the “know” as it were; for those whose primary concerns in fiction are less lofty the fights are pretty rockin’ and Kouga Yun can design characters to please any potential gender-based demographic and, if nothing else, you can at least take amusement in the fact that half of Setsuna F. Seiei’s lines are other people’s names (the other half is “Gundam”).

Although, honestly, even if people say them too much (as some might argue [->]), names are rather important in Gundam 00. More specifically, it’s the interwoven threads of connection between the large cast that the act of repeated nomenclature drives home. Nearly all the major players are, in some way, connected to each other through Six Degrees of Setsuna F. Seiei. Considering that half of the cast works at cross purposes to the other half, conflict is inevitable. Indeed, as Setsuna’s Innovation light envelops the Veda station, Andrei explains to Mary|Soma his reasons for hating Sergei: Sergei simply never tried to understand the pain and suffering Andrei underwent following the death of his mother. Mary|Soma simply replies “It was you who didn’t try to understand him.” Indeed, as the Rubber Band of Vengeance (where Hong Long, Wang Liu Mei, and Nena Trinity die in close succession, victims of their own conceits) taught us in episode 21, when you prioritize your own desires more than others in negative ways, retribution is sure to come. Even Louise, who managed to survive 21, briefly came upon the hollow satisfaction that is vengeance fulfilled; as the hate and rage melts away, only grief, regret, and sorrow remain.

Not all negative interactions need end in tragedy, however; simply by trying to understand one another can a conflict be resolved. Granted, in the real world, such resolutions are not nearly as tidy as in Gundam 00, but then we don’t have Setsuna’s magic GN particle pixie dust to aid and abet that quest (and neither, it seems, does the world of the epilogue). The only true villains in 00 are those who refuse to even attempt understanding another person; even the Innovades, claiming to be the “superior humans” and with telepathic powers, never even attempt this, apart from Anew Returner. In a sense, this makes Setsuna the worst offender in this regard: after his indoctrination by Ali Al-Saarchez in his youth, he spends nearly the entire series refusing to understand anyone and simply blindly following the ideology laid before him by Celestial Being and worships Gundam as a god that will bring deliverance from suffering. Only after Ribbons delivers a shock to his system does he understand the duality of it all, and resolves to bring about a new era himself using Gundam, rather than Gundam using him: an active rather than a passive role.

I think the 00 is actually the Turn-A prototype.

I think the 00 is actually the Turn-A prototype.

In that sense, the final battle is quite simple: Setsuna destroys both the 0 Gundam, his idealized image of Gundam, and the warped Ribbons who upset Aeolia Schenberg’s plan, who can no longer stoop to trying to understand another. Why bother understanding someone, when you can make them do what you want with just a flick of the wrist? But that, too, is where Ribbons is as wrong as Setsuna was: despite his protestations to the contrary, it is not he who leads the path towards the future, but others acting on his behalf. By pulling puppet strings, Ribbons is the ultimate at using an external force to bring about the new age he desires. Setsuna’s true Innovation, though, is not the GN particle pixie dust, but the realization that no external impetus can bring about change: not Celestial Being, not the A-Laws. Only an internal impetus can bring the desired change, as surely as it worked on Setsuna (literally and psychologically).

Even nastier, perhaps, is the franchise-wide message encoded in that final climactic scene: the external force is Gundam itself. The destruction of 0 Gundam, which resembles the famed RX-78-2 of yore, and the death of Ribbons, who is totally not Amuro Ray at all, points straight to the realization Setsuna had: Gundam cannot change the world, but those who watch it can. Rebirth? Renewal? Perhaps–with the recent announcement of a Gundam Unicorn movie, Gundam as a franchise clearly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but Gundam–all of Gundam–alone cannot bring about change: not to the world, not to Japan, not to any community, virtual or real, and not even to any one individual without their active participation in it. It is not magic. But it can spur on those who do have the ability to change, even in a minor, infinitesimal way. After all, is not reading a book (or listening to music, or watching a television program about robots beating the snot out of other robots), on a fundamental, basic level, an act of  making an attempt at understanding another human being (be it a deeply intricate philosophical concept or simply “robots beating the snot out of each other is really cool” [->])? Even if you disagree with the other person in the end, you understand, or made a legitimate attempt to, and understanding often salves our more negative emotions.

In the end, even in the epilogue, the world is still not united, nor does it seem as though war is about to die. It’d be quite easy for the world to fall into chaos once more (just in time for the movie, no doubt). The important thing is that people are striving to construct that peace and that future themselves, rather than rely upon another to fix it.

We’re all in this together, with global consequences for mishandling things. Might as well make the best of it.

Our future is glowy and green and in space and also has that eyecatch watermark in the lower right corner. Keep that in mind.


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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