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Simoun: A Connecting Braid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Simoun: Purity and War

Obligatory Image of Neviril and Aer Kissing In A Simoun Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime:

dawwwwwww

d'awwwwwww

Kino no Tabi: The Road Goes Ever On

Ever since I first heard about Kino no Tabi (or Kino’s Journey) when it aired six years ago, I have been eager to watch it. For reasons ineffable even to me, it has taken me until a few days ago to even start upon the series. I am quite happy to report that the series has been well worth the wait, even after only four episodes; allowing time for me to grow and mature between then and now has probably only amplified the experience of watching the series for the first time.

The framework of the series–Kino’s travels with her talking motorcycle Hermes in a quasi-fantastic land populated with darkly twisted city-states–allows for different explorations of the series’ tagline and central theme: the world is not beautiful, therefore it is. Kino no Tabi is unsettling and hauntingly elegiac, a feeling not unlike that experienced in Mushishi or when listening to a Sound Horizon album (Roman, or perhaps Elysion) with a translation in hand, although I would venture that perhaps Kino no Tabi is much easier to understand than Revo’s multilayered metaphorical lyrics. Other comparisons that pop to mind include Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Michael Ende’s Momo, both of which deal with functionally dysfunctional societies.

Of particular note (because I just watched it and it made me gush with awe) is the story of Kino’s homeland–the Country of Adults–and the profoundly alienating nature of that particular city-state. Here, children, at the age of twelve, undergo a menacing “operation” to “remove the child from their head” so as to enable them to enjoy their job, which are full of unpleasant and dull things that adults do not want to do. As do the residents of all city-states that Kino will visit, she simply accepts this way of life as natural and logical, the way things are. Of course, the illusion she has is shattered when a passing traveler (also named Kino–there’s a reason for it) learns of her country’s custom and inadvertently pries open her childish curiosity that things might be different than they are here, a profound, world-shattering sentiment for anyone who has the insatiable curiosity of a child.

Lamentably, of course, this leads directly to the “adults” (quotation marks are important here) discovering that, suddenly, Kino has a will of her own, and their psychopathic nature shows true, as her parents promptly begin to berate and despise her for not following tradition and questioning what’s good for her. This leads directly to her family deciding to kill her for refusing to undergo the surgery she “needs” to become an adult. The traveler-Kino, himself unable to fit into Kino’s highly delineated world of “child” and “adult” as he is neither, sacrifices himself, leaving Kino’s parents somewhat confused and stymied about what to do next (the attendant police officer helpfully encourages them to remove the knife so as to try to kill their daughter again) and also prompting Kino to escape with Hermes and begin the journey that occupies the remainder of the series.

Kino’s life as traveler has several interpretations: the most obvious one to be derived from her backstory is that she has now assumed the identity of the Kino who died to allow her to escape; now she, too, is caught in the land that is neither adult nor child. One is tempted to say “adolescence,” but that term carries a certain undesirable connotation. I tend to agree with a somewhat paraphrased statement about the phases of life: in childhood, you have all the questions; in adolescence, you have all the answers; in maturity, you realise that the questions were the answers all along. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that Kino now exists in a state beyond the loss of her innocence and the deadening of emotion that she’d assumed adulthood to be. In short, she never “grows up”; indeed, it could be said that all who are truly adult never do. She understands that there are other experiences yet to have in life, not all of them pleasant, yet she is also not resigning herself to a life of misery (or misery masked by bland, deadened, obligatory cheerfulness).

Another way to look as it is that, as a traveler, she is also an outsider. And as an outsider, removed from the troubles that the insiders have, she is better able to perceive the nature of things that the insider might deny themselves; Kino can see the faults as well as the strengths of each individual way of life. None are perfect, all are flawed; yet the flaws can also lend them the beauty they lack. In this, it seems, all walks of life are united. Even Kino’s way of life doesn’t escape the lens; as a traveler, she is alone, aloof, disconnected. Yet her unwillingness to settle down itself needn’t be viewed as a recipe for suffering and misery, as instead Kino draws pleasure from the evanescent solitude.

The world is not beautiful, she reasons; yet because there is suffering, there is also joy. And indeed, it seems that in every city-state she visits or draws near, there is superficial happiness masking a deeper undercurrent of suffering, malice, or cruelty; yet below and beyond the suffering lies a joy that goes seemingly unnoticed by the many resigned to their fates. Therefore: the world is beautiful.

Kino enjoys obtuse and paradoxical tautologies. They have flower petals.

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

Taishou Yakyuu Musume: Cute and educational!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical accuracy!

Historical accuracy!

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

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

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

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

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

Extra points, of course, for more songs.

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

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).

Kamichu!: Remembering “Love is Missing”

Kamichu! has long been one of my all-time favorite series, a series that manages to nail the slice-of-life aesthetic while also infusing it with a bit of Ghibli-esque magic. I love all the epiodes, but I have a special affection for “Love is Missing” (DVD episode 11). While being a very strong testament to familial ties as well as a lovely testing-the-limits-of-sister-bonds episode, it also happens to showcase the odd chemistry between Shokichi and Miko. Why do I care about Shokichi and Miko when Yurie and Kenji are perfectly servicable characters, you might ask?

Because they’re awesome, that’s why.

Yurie and Kenji are a cute couple, in the sense that Yurie is too shy to ever really say anything to Kenji about her feelings (because she’s, well, Yurie). Kenji, meanwhile, is utterly oblivious to the world at large, and charmingly so. It’s rather simple for me to identify with both of them, as I have had a shyness factor perilously close to Yurie’s (and now only dangerously close to Yurie’s), and I can get as oblivious as Kenji sometimes (most times I’m only slightly more than half as oblivious as he is, though, thankfully). And while I really like Yurie and Kenji as a couple, they somehow do not hold a candle to Shokichi and Miko.

Shokichi and Miko are both the kind of people who very very obviously know that they like the other, but cannot bring it to themselves to really say it. So, instead, what should normally be a very obvious relationship between two people who like one another instead becomes a relationship so awkward I can’t help but adore it. Nowhere is this awkwardness more palpable than in “Love is Missing”, sticking the two of them in Hiroshima alone together, in a situation where they are both obviously there together because of how they feel about one another (Miko having asked Shokichi to accompany her upon her running-away endeavor, and Shokichi willingly going and refusing to return home, abandoning her) and yet still reluctant to let their own feelings become too obvious to the other. Cue twenty or so minutes of awkward romance and truancy action and you end up with an OGT that is little more than a puddle on the floor. A blissful puddle, but a puddle nonetheless.

I’m not entirely certain if this post has any kind of point (or can ever actually have a point even if pressed hard enough to have one) other than 1) still not dead yet 2) having the long-sought-after fanboying over “Love is Missing” and Kamichu! n general that I’ve wanted to do for almost a year but hadn’t been able to due to having loaned my DVDs to a friend for nine months and 3) mentioning a plan to rewatch the series again with perhaps a closer eye towards each episode’s general theme, if only because starting to finish up the last rewatch made me acutely aware of the potential for verbiosity there.

Or, barring that, I can just watch it again because it seems to really be what I need right now, anime-wise.

Were you waiting for a brain-busting revelation? You only get this one [->], I’m afraid. A terrible let-down, I’m sure.

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?)


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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