Tag: anime (page 1 of 2)

From The Vault: Drill, Baby, Drill

Watching Gurren-Hen last night, I come back to the reasons why I fell in love with Gurren Lagann in the first place. I want to revisit that.


Courtesy Rabbitpoets
Courtesy Rabbitpoets, will credit original artist!

When I encounter a new story that I find myself enjoying thoroughly, there’s a part of me that can’t just leave it at that. I have to look deeper than my superficial glee and take a look at what really calls to me about the tale. I have to examine characters, plot points, meanings and development. I don’t know if it’s my background in doing so for years at university, or my desire to better understand other stories so I can write mine better, but in any case, it’s what makes me review and critique stuff on a regular basis.

Case in point: I just finished watching the anime series Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I’m no stranger to big robot anime. Voltron and Robotech (Macross in particular) were staples growing up. When I hit university I was introduced to more – Macross Plus, Gundam Wing and the brilliant but bizarre Neon Genesis Evangelion. There are plenty of other mecha anime out there, and plenty of anime that get classified as shounen – aimed primarily at young or teenage boys with exciting action and plenty of fighting. One might think, with a cursory glance, that Gurren Lagann is in the same vein as these, even with its unique aesthetic, but it doesn’t take long for the series’s true strengths to reveal themselves.

In a few other series I’ve dipped my toe into and even enjoyed, the main character gets his special power or destiny, and pursues it with dogged determination that, while admirable, does not vary his character much. Gurren Lagann, on the other hand, lets its characters develop naturally. The character of Simon, in particular, goes through a lot of growth from the beginning of the series to its end. In addition to the respect I give a story for the willingness to actually end legitimately and well, there’s the fact that the Simon at the end of the story is a different person, a more developed person, than he was at the beginning. The same goes for Yoko; a character that easily could have been relegated to simple fan service is also allowed to grow, breathe, develop, and take on a life of her own.

Another way in which the series sets itself apart is in the fact that actions have consequences. Each victory that our heroes gain take them deeper into a world they did not anticipate, and as much as the show likes to treat the laws of physics more like loose guidelines than actual rules, there’s no cheap resurrections and no going back. Changes are irreversible, and consequences must be dealt with. In a general genre and specific sub-genre that is usually all about an empowerment fantasy free of consequences, seeing a show that drops the hammer on its character multiple times for things they do is refreshing.

As cool as it would be to pilot a giant mecha, Gurren Lagann seems to treat its unique and strikingly designed machines as exactly what they are: vehicles. They’re the means by which the story and its meaning are delivered, and the meaning is this: it’s okay to be yourself. In fact, the ideal way to live one’s life is to forge ahead making one’s own destiny with a sense of self-belief. Believing in yourself can be hard to do, especially when it feels like the whole world is against you, but when people have faith in you, and you have faith in yourself, there is literally nothing you can’t do. Rather than relegate such things to occasional character moments or after-credits messages, Gurren Lagann makes this the driving force behind its narrative, a massive drill that bores a hole right through your expectations. The individual’s sense of self-worth is a weapon in and of itself; when fully realized, it’s an extremely potent one.

I may be reading too much into an anime series, or drawing an inordinate amount of inspiration from it, but that’s who I am. I take the lessons I find from what I experience and I try to make them a part of my life. I am, as always, a work in progress. I will never stop learning, never stop growing, and never stop writing about it. That’s what I do. And the more I do it, the more proud I become of what I’m doing and what I will do in the future. I may not live up to some expectations, I may make mistakes, but I will make my future my own, because that’s what you do when you come to realize who you are and what that means to you and to the world around you.

I’m a writer. I’m a fanboy. I’m a critic and a philosopher and I fight for what I believe in.

Who the hell do you think I am?

500 Words on Space Dandy

Courtesy Funimation

Space Dandy is a dandy guy. In space.

One of the first anime directors I was introduced to many years ago was ShinichirĊ Watanabe. Folks who know the genre will likely recognize his name as the man behind Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. He’s worked with legendary anime studio BONES before – this is the studio that gave use Fullmetal Alchemist and Wolf’s Rain – and their latest collaboration is truly something to behold. The series is called Space Dandy, and its lead character of the same name is, in fact, a dandy guy. In space.

Space Dandy hunts aliens. Specifically, he looks for alien species that have not yet been documented, as registering new alien species earns you a substantial reward. Dandy’s dream is to use that cash to buy a chain of themed “breasteraunts” known as BooBies so he can hang out there for free. He flies a ship called the Aloha Oe, and is aided by his souped-up Roomba-style robot, QT, and a Betelgeusean (read: space cat) beatnik named Me#$%* – everybody calls him ‘Meow’.

Oh, and there’s something about an intergalactic conflict and Dandy’s being chased by some malevolent monkey-person wearing a hat pilfered from Bootsy Collins who takes orders from a twenty-foot tall dude with a flaming skull.

In case you haven’t noticed, Space Dandy is not a series to be taken terribly seriously. Where Cowboy Bebop was, by Watanabe’s own math, 80% serious and 20% comedy, Space Dandy is the opposite. There are hints of a narrative through-line here and there, but it really never imposes too much. Or at least, it hasn’t yet. The show is still being shown both in Japan and here in the United States.

That’s part of what’s so fascinating about it. On top of the absolutely breathtaking and smooth animation, and plenty of legitimately funny moments, there’s something to be said about the fact that new episodes are premiering on the same day on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean. The nature of the collaboration has lead to very similar quality in terms of dialog when it comes to the subtitled version one sees on services like Hulu and Crunchyroll, and the dubbed version on Adult Swim. For someone who grew up with some truly wince-inducing dub work in early entries back when it was called ‘Japanimation’ on what used to be referred to as ‘The Sci-Fi Channel’, this is really impressive stuff.

There’s a lot to like in Space Dandy. Every alien we see is the brain-child of a different animator, the Narrator frequently forgets key information he was supposed to dispense while also confirming that in space there is no fourth wall, and the whole thing feels steeped in the sort of ray-gun aesthetic you’d get if Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon hung out in Margaritaville. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and I’m very curious to see how the series continues to develop.

It’s music is catchy, too, but this is Watanabe we’re talking about, so that’s a given….

Drill, Baby, Drill

Courtesy Rabbitpoets
Courtesy Rabbitpoets, will credit original artist!

When I encounter a new story that I find myself enjoying thoroughly, there’s a part of me that can’t just leave it at that. I have to look deeper than my superficial glee and take a look at what really calls to me about the tale. I have to examine characters, plot points, meanings and development. I don’t know if it’s my background in doing so for years at university, or my desire to better understand other stories so I can write mine better, but in any case, it’s what makes me review and critique stuff on a regular basis.

Case in point: I just finished watching the anime series Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I’m no stranger to big robot anime. Voltron and Robotech (Macross in particular) were staples growing up. When I hit university I was introduced to more – Macross Plus, Gundam Wing and the brilliant but bizarre Neon Genesis Evangelion. There are plenty of other mecha anime out there, and plenty of anime that get classified as shounen – aimed primarily at young or teenage boys with exciting action and plenty of fighting. One might think, with a cursory glance, that Gurren Lagann is in the same vein as these, even with its unique aesthetic, but it doesn’t take long for the series’s true strengths to reveal themselves.

In a few other series I’ve dipped my toe into and even enjoyed, the main character gets his special power or destiny, and pursues it with dogged determination that, while admirable, does not vary his character much. Gurren Lagann, on the other hand, lets its characters develop naturally. The character of Simon, in particular, goes through a lot of growth from the beginning of the series to its end. In addition to the respect I give a story for the willingness to actually end legitimately and well, there’s the fact that the Simon at the end of the story is a different person, a more developed person, than he was at the beginning. The same goes for Yoko; a character that easily could have been relegated to simple fan service is also allowed to grow, breathe, develop, and take on a life of her own.

Another way in which the series sets itself apart is in the fact that actions have consequences. Each victory that our heroes gain take them deeper into a world they did not anticipate, and as much as the show likes to treat the laws of physics more like loose guidelines than actual rules, there’s no cheap resurrections and no going back. Changes are irreversible, and consequences must be dealt with. In a general genre and specific sub-genre that is usually all about an empowerment fantasy free of consequences, seeing a show that drops the hammer on its character multiple times for things they do is refreshing.

As cool as it would be to pilot a giant mecha, Gurren Lagann seems to treat its unique and strikingly designed machines as exactly what they are: vehicles. They’re the means by which the story and its meaning are delivered, and the meaning is this: it’s okay to be yourself. In fact, the ideal way to live one’s life is to forge ahead making one’s own destiny with a sense of self-belief. Believing in yourself can be hard to do, especially when it feels like the whole world is against you, but when people have faith in you, and you have faith in yourself, there is literally nothing you can’t do. Rather than relegate such things to occasional character moments or after-credits messages, Gurren Lagann makes this the driving force behind its narrative, a massive drill that bores a hole right through your expectations. The individual’s sense of self-worth is a weapon in and of itself; when fully realized, it’s an extremely potent one.

I may be reading too much into an anime series, or drawing an inordinate amount of inspiration from it, but that’s who I am. I take the lessons I find from what I experience and I try to make them a part of my life. I am, as always, a work in progress. I will never stop learning, never stop growing, and never stop writing about it. That’s what I do. And the more I do it, the more proud I become of what I’m doing and what I will do in the future. I may not live up to some expectations, I may make mistakes, but I will make my future my own, because that’s what you do when you come to realize who you are and what that means to you and to the world around you.

I’m a writer. I’m a fanboy. I’m a critic and a philosopher and I fight for what I believe in.

Who the hell do you think I am?

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Akira

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

{no audio this week – sorry for the inconvenience!}

Many authors have speculated that we as a species are walking a knife’s edge between transcending our previous limitations in terms of body, mind, and spirit, and falling into an inevitable downward spiral of self-destruction we’re simply too lazy to avert. It’s a resonant message and especially popular in the genre of cyberpunk, where near-future technology that pushes the envelope of human potential is often juxtaposed with the plight of have-nots struggling to keep up with the haves. Films like Blade Runner, books like Snow Crash and games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution drive these points home in stunning ways, and to that list I would add the 1988 Japanese animated feature Akira.

Courtesy Pioneer

The year is 2019. Tokyo, having suffered major losses during a cataclysmic event in 1988, has been rebuilt as Neo-Tokyo. Violence is breaking out on its streets between rival biker gangs the Clowns and the Capsules, the latter lead by a young upstart named Kaneda. His friend, Tetsuo, nearly runs over a small child in the course of a fight, but the child turns out to be a psychic, the result of experimentation by the military in the wake of Tokyo’s destruction. Tetsuo, in turn, is discovered to possess a great deal of psychic potential himself and is taken for testing. While Kaneda hooks up with an underground dissident movement to help his friend, the military moves to stop the experiments on Tetsuo by killing the boy, lest he realize his potential which mirrors that of the child who destroyed Tokyo in the first place, the child named Akira.

Like many works of its type, Akira began life as a manga in the 1980s. Rather than hand the 2000-page magnum opus to someone else, the production team ensured that the author, Katsuhiro Otomo, wrote and directed the film adaptation. The result was something new for the art houses of anime. Notorious for cutting corners and running out of money before production was complete (look no further than Neon Genesis Evangelion as evidence of this), Akira boasted not only a robust budget but fully lip-synced dialog and animation as fluid as possible, resulting in a film that holds up in terms of both style and substance over 20 years later.

Courtesy Pioneer
Didn’t Edna Mode say something about capes?

With golden pixels each costing the price of a meal flying around in modern productions, seeing hand-drawn animation this detailed and imaginative is incredibly refreshing. Watching Akira unfold, either for the first time or on repeated viewings, makes the skill and dedication of the artists at work obvious without them needing to impose themselves upon the work. Even when the film delves into its more symbolic and psychological elements, the crux of the film remains the narrative and the characters, allowing the theme and mood to speak for themselves rather than making them overt elements in the storytelling. I know a few auteurs who could take notes from this kind of film-making.

A large part of Akira‘s success is due to the characters being fully realized individuals, not just cyphers. Kaneda and Tetsuo clearly have a strong bond, even if the gang leader picks on the smallest member of his crew quite a bit. It’s realistic dialog that conveys a great deal of emotion and history without needing to dive into overlong exposition or diatribes on feelings. The stoic, pragmatic Colonel at the heart of the experiments that unlock Tetsuo’s powers may seem one-dimensional at first, but his relationship with the test subjects and utter contempt for government corruption quickly deepen and expand his character. Even minor roles, like the dissidents and other members of the Capsules, have a force of personality that helps Akira proceed in a very natural and straightforward manner, even towards the end when psychic powers start going incredibly haywire.

Courtesy Pioneer
You wish your ride was this sweet.

There’s been talk of a live-action adaptation of Akira since Warner Brothers acquired the rights in 2002, with the typical rumors of casting flying around even as it waffles between in-production and shut down. Personally, I don’t know how one could pull off an effective adaptation of Akira in the United States. A big part of Akira‘s success is its haunting callback to being the victims of nuclear assault and needing to rebuild in the wake of terrible cataclysms. While there’s a lot of interest in the States in terms of cyberpunk, civil unrest, delinquent youths, and the nature of corruption and maturity, we would approach these things from an entirely different perspective and I think Akira would suffer for that. The film as it is tackles each of these themes within its running time without feeling dull or overly preachy. It presents human nature, terrifying and limitless and raw and wonderful all at once, as it is and as it could be.

Given that the film is so thoroughly Japanese, from its themes to its soundtrack to its setting and culture, I would recommend watching Akira in that language with subtitles. Many nuances of the language can get left behind even by the most skilled dub artists, and there’s also the fact the film was re-dubbed in 2001 which inevitably can lead to arguments over which version is best. Regardless of how you watch it or in what language, however, Akira is undoubtedly worth your time. It’s a superb blend of action, intrigue, and young existential angst, all conveyed with some of the finest hand-drawn animation you’ll ever see. Over two decades after its release, it still holds up. After all, where else will you find a movie that, without skipping a beat, contains magnetically-driven motorcycles, freaky child psychics, space lasers and the true meaning of friendship?

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! HALO Legends

Logo courtesy Netflix. No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/halo.mp3]

So a few years ago this new sci-fi franchise got started. It had some interesting ideas based on established literature and the first entry did a lot better than anybody could have expected. It spawned a couple of sequels that really didn’t measure up to the original but people really ate it up anyway and there were a couple of spin-off projects, too. Then, somebody got the bright idea to get Japan involved, and some of the best material ever associated with the franchise, as well as some mediocre disappointments, became collected into a series of shorts called… the Animatrix. No, wait, sorry, I meant HALO Legends.

Courtesy Bungie

Okay, that might be a little unfair, there are actually big differences between HALO and the Matrix. One’s a movie franchise, the other’s an X-box franchise. One’s based on shoddy poorly-written post-modern philosophy while the other cribs notes from Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein. One’s got a rabid fanbase of diehard fans who won’t brook any dissention against their beloved universe, and the other’s got a rabid fanbase of diehard fans who won’t brook any dissention against their beloved universe AND will teabag you if you don’t play the game as much as they do while calling you queer and saying how good your mom was last night. And when the collection of anime shorts was announced, one fanbase considered it a worthy addition to and refreshing change from the established material, while the other fanbase… well, let’s just say the words “RUINED FOREVER” were screamed more than once across the Interwebs. But how is the end product of HALO Legends? I’m going to go blow by blow and it might take a while, so grab a drink or other refreshment if you’d like.

Origins begins the project with a two-part history of the HALO universe narrated by Cortana, ranging from the Forerunners’ attempts to sterilize the Flood to mankind’s expansion into the stars. In another interesting parallel with the Animatrix, this is a rich, comprehensive narrative that is unapologetic in its characterization of mankind and his many follies. However, it belies the lack of this sort of substance within the game itself. It forms the spine of the games’ stories, but most people just want the meatier parts. I’ve seen at least one review of this bit saying it “needs more explosions.” Anyway, the challenge for the rest of the shorts is to take these concepts, these characters, and move in new & interesting directions.

Courtesy Bungie
This art really needs to be seen to be believed.

The Duel is not only interesting, it’s visually stunning; I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I’m not entirely sure how the visual effect of this short were achieved. I think the animation was CG but I can’t be sure, as the different patterns and shifting colors seem to have a life of their own. It’s like a muse blowing onto an oil painting, and the brushstrokes moving of their own accord in response. Underneath this artistic achivement is a story both lush and lurid told from the other side of the great war than engulfs the HALO universe. The Covenant always seemed more interesting than the games might have allowed them to be, but this casts them in not only a deep, nuanced light, but a very human one. It’s not easy to establish empathy for a character in so short a timespan, but The Duel does it very well, and the fact that the protagonist is a hostile alien makes the work all the more impressive.

When Homecoming began, I couldn’t help but smile not only when the SPARTAN not only doffed her helmet, but also at the sight of the tiny stuffed bear hanging from her armor. When you’re sauntering down one of HALO’s many metal corridors gunning down aliens, you never stop to think of the cost necessary to put a soldier like a SPARTAN there. Like The Duel, it humanizes an element that lacked that nature in the games; but in this case and by way of extension, it’s the player’s character that gets depth and emotion. While leaving the main character of a shooter an empty vessel for the player to pour themselves into makes sense, I can’t shake the feeling that just a glimmer of this sort of storytelling would elevate the games to a much higher level than the one they currently occupy. The story of HALO, Origins’ expounding notwithstanding, is a touch on the forgettable side; Homecoming is anything but.

Courtesy Bungie
Putting the “1337” in elite.

While those entries add some serious depth to the stories, Odd One Out takes the HALO universe in an entirely different direction. It’s just here to have some FUN with things. In this case, SPARTAN 1337, who may well be the Deadpool of this franchise, gets a powerful monster thrown at him by the Prophet of Truth, seen here as King Zarkon’s cantankerous little brother more than a diabolical yet eloquent if cryptic space-pope. (Crap, I think it’s rubbing off…) Even 1337’s astounding and manly heroism can’t beat this threat into submission alone, but thankfully he crash-landed on a planet that might be populated with characters from Dragonball. HALO’s done a lot of things, but this might be the first time the universe has made me laugh out loud in genuine humorous glee. I think it was 1337’s impressive introduction to the little kids that had me rolling; that, or the sight of his legs sticking out of the maw of a tamed T-Rex.

Prototype has some techno-geek fun with the idea of the UNSC developing a Macross or Gundam-style combat suit and unleashing it against the Covenant. The man inside the suit could have been a bit more interesting, but it’s still delivering more story and characterization than the games usually do. While it’s no Homecoming, it’s also not bad in the slightest, though it did signal a steadily declining trend in story quality as HALO Legends wore on.

Courtesy Bungie
As ambivelant as I felt about The Babysitter, this is still a poignant image.

The Babysitter is more typical HALO fare. It’s trying to tap that Starship Troopers/Band of Brothers vein and stabbing the wrong part of the arm a couple times before getting it right. While it’s nice to see an ODST story, if it were a touch more original it might make the Helljumpers seem like more than just a sci-fi send-up of Easy Company. Like Prototype, it isn’t necessarily bad, just nothing terribly outstanding especially when compared the earlier entries. And if you don’t see the big plot twist towards the end coming a mile away, you should read & watch more stories.

Don’t think HALO fanboys go completely unloved in Legends. Appleseed director Shinji Aramaki puts SPARTAN 117 through his paces in The Package. Once again, this bit can’t objectively be called bad, as there are no technical issues to speak of and it looks somewhat impressive in its execution. I was reminded of the CGI used by Skywalker Studios, particularly in the opening of Episode III of Star Wars. However, let’s leave that comparison behind before I start drawing more parallels between franchise characters and get angry emails from HALO fans saying that their beloved Master Chief would never slaughter children. Well, not human children anyway. He can kill as many Covenant kids as he wants, after all they’re different from us, right?

Courtesy Bungie
Think about it. Master Chief could be Darth Vader without the asthma.

All in all I feel relatively the same way towards HALO Legends as I do towards the Animatrix. It’s done some of the best storytelling in the franchise and lets some of Japan’s premiere visionaries take a Western narrative concept in new directions. Unlike the Animatrix, this is front-loaded with quality entries and the original stories and fun factor slowly peter out towards the end. Which is not to say that the latter bits are unwatchable by any stretch, they just don’t do as much with this universe or its characters. By all means, if you’re interested in this franchise, some recent successful science fiction or the work of the attached anime studios, queue this up on Netflix. I have to say the two hours watching this was probably more fun for me than playing HALO for two hours. As unoriginal as some of the entries feel, at least none of them ever tried to teabag me.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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