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Archive for the ‘Saturday Anime’ Category

By Bob Clark

The overlap between the manga and anime industries in Japan is an interesting thing to consider for how relatively rare it is in the way that comics and animation are produced worldwide. Japan obviously isn’t the only country in the world where both mediums thrive, but in a sense it’s the only one where they do so side by side, and where talent can cross between the two rather freely. In the United States you’ve got plenty of world-famous animation studios, comic-book presses and daily cartoonist syndicates, but these things are all pretty much separated by the distance of an entire continent– Disney in California, and Marvel, DC, hell even Mad Magazine based over in New York. In Europe, while there’s still room for art-conscious cartoons and animated films here and there, you don’t have quite the same kind of deeply rooted industry for it in the same way that lets illustrators like Herge or Moebius become household names. Hell, even Canada’s got the occasional big-name in terms of comics with guys like Dave Sim or Bryan Lee O’Malley, but I doubt you’re about to see them or others follow the path of Norman McClaren anytime soon.

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By Bob Clark

Masamune Shirow is a curious mangaka to study in terms of the total body of his career. Today, he’s mostly known for the franchises of anime films and television series his comics have sired– even without considering the subject of this article, the likes of Appleseed, DominionTank Police and Ghost Hound would be a tidy, respectable impact on the otaku community, to say the least (at the very least, a reasonably profitable one). Those works mostly lived in much of the same futuristic entertainment/fantasia element that a lot of manga and anime aim at, providing wholly imagined worlds tethered just enough to our present-day circumstances to feel recognizable and contemporary, even while projecting themselves and the scope of their intrigues at a scale that would far exceed even some of the most high-concept of big-budget Hollywood sci-fi spectacles. The first two works also share in common a strict adherence to the police procedural genre, following special tactical cop forces as they seek to maintain order in worlds decimated by some series of far-flung apocalyptic disasters, dictatorial dystopian states or an out-of-control criminal element consisting mainly of twin cat-girl bombshells (or, of course, all of the above). Shirow’s use of the model is something you see a lot in sci-fi, and works in anime and manga especially, where you can detect a faint aura of militarist wish-fulfillment in all of the high-tech weaponry that the various detectives and officers have at their disposal and the ways in which they’re used in cases of high international intrigue throughout their city-wide beats– Japan may not have a standing army that can fight wars overseas anymore, but there’s always ways to bring the war home and fight it with just the same kind of hardware, especially in the information age.

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by Jaime Grijalba.

The last wednesday, when everybody was still mourning the loss of Ken Russell, british director of the violent and sacrilegous masterpiece that is ‘The Devils’, a news piece from Japan went unnoticed until the next day, December 1st, that certain niche places that admire the works of the great animators of the japanese kind announced the sad news of the passing of Shingo Araki. Now, that’s how I was informed of it, the news came up on twitter via an anime fan I follow, just because he’s the brother of someone I follow as well, saying that one of the character designers and key animators of the classic anime TV series ‘Saint Seiya’ had died. I was overwhelmed, ‘Saint Seiya’ was one of those TV series that are classic around these parts of the globe, it was a Big Hit in Chile when I was a kid, and I watched it as well, so I couldn’t help but feel sad. Inmediatly I decided to search for him in my usual venues, looking for what other works he had done in the world of anime, and I was given the surprise of my life when he was responsible for the character creation of many of the other cartoons I used to watch at that time, and others that I watched during the sweet years of my childhood, so I was barely resisting the urge to do something about it, specially since he practically made many of my favorite shows as I grew up. I inmediatly spoke to Bob Clark through Gmail Chat (a weird, yet awesome tool has given us the way to communicate even if he doesn’t have a Gmail account) and told him that he died, just ot be received with a hint of ignorance on who he really was. Now, I’m not dissapointed of the ignorance, after all, as time has prooven to me, many of the anime shows tha played when I was a kid, haven’t even been released in USA, or just didn’t have the cult following or success that was expected, so I quietly began to explain how this guy practically drew my heroes.

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By Bob Clark

Being one of the few mediums where it’s possible to create a wholly comprehensive narrative and aesthetic work as a solo effort, comics have become a place for innovative and sometimes groundbreaking autobiographical impulses, cartoonists mining their personal lives or those tied to them for all manner of sequential representation. It’s also been a way for artists and authors (the two being the same thing in affairs written and drawn by a single person) to express any number of the historic and political issues of the day in ways that contemporary storytelling is sometimes hindered by (there’s only so much that even Garry Trudeau can do in Doonesbury before having to resort to pictorial “icons” like the Newt Gingrich floating bomb or the Bill Clinton waffle– savvy pieces of political cartooning, but ones that strain credibility and realism in ways that even Uncle Duke’s hallucinations don’t quite). Kenji Nakazawa loosely mined his own personal experiences as a survivor of Hiroshima for the Barefoot Gen manga. Joe Sacco’s work as an enterprising illustrator-journalist in the various warzone crises of the 90’s led to some rather stunning works like Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde, showing that comics could tackle and report current affairs with just as much validity as a prose piece or cinematic documentary. Art Spiegelman has spent more or less the whole of his career mining his personal life and connections to tragedies both historic and contemporary in avant-garde affairs like Prisoner on the Hell Planet, In the Shadow of No Towers and most especially his renowned Maus, in which he traces his parents’ joint paths through the nightmare of the Holocaust while simultaneously covering his own efforts to interview and connect with his father in the present.

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By Jaime Grijalba

While doing my Horror Madness Month during October at my blog I take the following approach: I need to see and review a film daily, a horror film, but what film can it be? I’ll never know. Sometimes I know the name of the film the day before I have to do the review (but I never see the film in advance), but sometimes I have to get, see and review the film in just a few hours before the midnight of the next day comes. It’s crazy, I know. Nothing would’ve told me that I’d end up reviewing a horror anime film of all things I could end up reviewing (this month I even got the chance to see and review the classic Disney animation ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ (1948), not that much horror, but scary for little kids). So for this Saturday Anime, Bob has let me link to my piece on this wonderful OVA (Original Video Animation) from the land of Japan, the 2004 production ‘Le Portrait de Petit Cossette’. Don’t let the title fool you, this is a very Japanese effort, with some of the usual traits of the anime (like the use of the lolita character with fancy dressings (specifically, gothic lolita, of all things), as well as some stock characters, but still manages to confuse and horrorize as well as give you one of the greatest and most impossible love stories of all time: between a living man and a dead girl.

You can check my brief capsule here, thanks!

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By Bob Clark

To look at the mecha genre from anime works of the past ten or fifteen years, you’d think that there was never really a time when stories about gigantic robots piloted by heroic young people, usually boys just barely into adolescence, could’ve been nothing more than mere entertainment, the kind of juvenile power-fantasies that children are wont to have in their early years, only to grow more and more out of as they age into adulthood and find themselves utterly disenfranchised by the world and its opportunities. In the West, we’re used to seeing these kinds of fantasies play out in the realm of superpowers, magic, or some pseudo-scientific combination thereof, and as time goes on we can see the stories about kids wielding those kinds of abilities turning progressively darker and more ridden by neuroses– the growing pains of the supernatural. But while stuff like the X-Men and Harry Potter franchises find themselves exercising (or exorcising) a fair amount of teenage angst, they can barely hold a candle to the psychological pressure-cooker that mecha-anime have been for at least as long as the most current generations of otaku are willing to remember. Ever since Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion tore the world a new one and laid bare all the psycho-sexual undercurrents of both its creator and the genre he’d devoted his imagination to as a child and as a director, nearly all the most visible animations dealing with teenage boys and the bigger-than-life robots they pilot have had more to do with wrestling emotions than any kind of external enemy. Sure, stuff like The Big O or the continually rebooting Gundam series may not have been quite as heavy on the soul-torturing abstraction or expressionistic cataclysms, but they weren’t exactly light on out-of-this-world mystery or philosophical mumbo-jumbo, either.

That’s why it’s interesting to look at a severely long-term OVA project like Giant Robo: The Animation as a picture of the giant-mecha genre in all the stages of this crucial time in anime’s developing impact on the world. Began in 1992 as an increasingly loose adaptation of the original manga created by Mitseru Yokoyama (best known as the creator of Tetsujin 28-Go, famous in the West as Gigantor), the seven episode series was produced by Yasuhiro Yamaki (whose work ranges from the action-adventure of Ninja Resurrection to the outright pornography of Urutsokodoji) and writen & directed by Yasuhiro Imagawa (who would later move onto the Gundam and Getter Robo franchises) in a style seeming to aim for nothing more than a good ol’ fashioned piece of adventure, done at the high scales and scopes that the Original Video Animation format afforded creators in the 80’s and 90’s that the quick production and streamlined budgets of television often found lacking. Right from the first episode, it’s easy to see the expense being thrown to the screen in the lavish cel-animation, itself something of a wonder to see in an age where even hand-drawn work is routinely done on computers, and Imagawa’s team makes great use of the resources at their command, conceiving and staging high-wire acts of robotic action set-pieces between the villainous Big Fire group and the heroic Experts of Justice, chief among whom stand young Daisaku Kosama and his towering Giant Robo, in the epic battles waged to control the world’s seemingly perfect energy source, the Shizuma Drive.

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By Bob Clark

In science-fiction of almost any nationality, the dystopia remains one of the most constant presences. One could say that it’s the common fear of political domination of any ilk, or the shared experiences spread across the globe that render fictions of such unjust regimes as universal axioms, but in a strict narrative sense, there’s a much easier handle for all of these big police states parading about, and keeping the citizenry under their thumb. From a genre perspective, dystopias represent something of a perfect storm for storytellers of any medium– the dystopia represents a near unanimously-agreed upon source of evil and conflict in just about any civilized society one is bound to find an audience in (for the ones that don’t, the work might be counted as a worthy subversive act); the dystopia is both outside the norm of human experience yet frequent enough in history to stand as something more grounded than sheer fantasy; the dystopia has its own specific sets of rules and regulations, the kind that make it easy to tell basic stories of good and evil, right and wrong that modern democracy and the pluralistic cultures it represents are often too ambiguous for.

As such, even in the most high-minded forms of dystopian fiction, there’s always an element of adventurism to be found– the thrill of forbidden romance, the heroism of resistance, the excitement of escapism. It’s as though one were witnessing a piece of propaganda from the other side, the revolutionary manifesto reduced to mythic pulp-fiction, because after all a dystopia in any form represents an attempt by the state to reduce public life to the same kind of spectacle and absolutism one is bound pulp. As such, when we experience dystopian fiction, we’re not just experiencing the revolutionary myth, but the counter-recolutionary legend as well– in the wrong hands, even a stern warning against the evils of power can turn into yet another Machiavellian set of blueprints. One could always do well to wonder if Orwell didn’t predict the proliferation of CCTV and satellite surveillance cameras of the modern day so much as he suggested the notion in the pages of Nineteen Eighty Four, inspiring a generation of subtle domination in the Western world in the same way that scientists and astronauts were pushed into the direction of submarines and rocketships by the works of Jules Verne. If that’s true, one might also wonder what kind of state might find inspiration in a work like Alex Shearer’s book Bootleg, which has gone on to inspire a BBC mini-series, a manga series illustrated by Aiji Yamakawa, and of course an original-net animation, released domestically as a full feature-length anime directed by Takayuki Hamana under the title Chocolate Underground.

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By Bob Clark

Another detour from anime this week as we look more at the animated musical, but still steer clear of the traditional route of Disney and their imitators. In any number of ways, the 1971 animated television special The Point represents something of an oddity for anybody pursuing relative obscurities and nostalgic relics of thinking-man’s cartoons. With a sketchy, watercolor-infused art style that often only makes faint attempts to connect concretely with the plot at hand or the subjects of the various musical numbers, the film has a decidedly surreal, but playful outlook uncommon for traditional fairy-tale narratives. Instead, it has much more in common with any number of the other pop-music inspired works of animation from the 70’s and 80’s (The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, Peter, Paul & Mary’s Puff the Magic Dragon), not to mention the whole abstract and expressionist tendencies in some of the more independent animated efforts from that time period in North America. Though they tend to be drowned out by the overwhelming mainstream popularity of studios like Disney and Warner Brothers, there’s long been a strong-running undercurrent of more subversive animators toiling within and without the system in the United States and especially Canada, and it’s to The Point‘s credit that it feels more like any number of the adventurous works of Canadian animation than anything from its own shores.

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By Bob Clark

When writing about the anime-musical, there are really only so many feature-length offerings to hold up as examples of the form, and certainly nowhere near as many as you’ll find in Western animation, where Disney and their imitators have all but made singing and dancing as natural for animation as, well, animation itself. Granted, there are plenty of Japanese works that feature lengthy song-sequences, and even several series that structure themselves entirely around characters who perform music (recent ones include the girl-band focused K-On!  and others about high-school classical musicians). Music often finds itself one of the most integral parts of anime works, either on a small basis (episodes like Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s “Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!” or The Big O‘s “Legacy of Amadeus” contain character arcs defined primarily through their protagonists’ experiences with music) or on a long-term, thematic one (Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo taking their stylistic cues from modern jazz and hip-hop culture, respectively). But by and large, works that takes their cue from music directly is something that’s an infrequent affair, which makes even a short work like Interstella 5555 such an interesting anomaly, both for the quality of the animation itself and for the intersection it marks between modern music and classic anime alike, pairing the electronica duo Daft Punk with the legendary creator of Captain Harlock, Space Battleship Yamato and Galaxy Express 999, Leiji Matsumoto.

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By Bob Clark

There’s a special kind of disappointment to be found in cataloging the abortive attempts at movies by great filmmakers that never got off the ground. Whether it’s Kubrick’s Napoleon, Kurosawa’s version of Tora Tora Tora or just about any of the hypothetical near-misses of Terry Gilliam’s career, there’s no shortage of occasions in the annals of cinematic history where the perfect synthesis of filmmaker and subject matter almost came to fruition. Oftentimes, it happens to arise around the matter of adapting a work from one medium into films, and though we may see great directors pass on from a project, more often than not we wind up with someone even more fitting for the job (Francis Ford Coppola directing The Godfather after Sergio Leone turned it down, Stanley Kubrick picking up A Clockwork Orange after Ken Russell) or at the very least no less fitting than anyone who preceded them (David Lynch inheriting Dune after the likes of Alejandro Jodorowski and Ridley Scott, or Ken Russell inheriting Altered States, cast and all, from Arthur Penn). In the realm of animation, however, there are likely few missed opportunities more disheartening than the series of creative misfortunes that suffered the long-developed Little Nemo anime, which slipped through the fingers of no less than Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, only two of the luminary figures whose paths crossed with the film in its long-slumbering production.

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