Anime: Midori Days

Well, given the subject matter–guys wakes up one day, and his right hand now sports (instead of the expected five digits) a tiny girl who loves him–I thought that this was going to play to a number of Freudian themes. Hey, there’s a GIRL on your right hand–what are you going to DO on a Saturday night?!? Amirite? Guys?

Turns out I was wrong. The girl and the guy are, if you’ll pardon the phrase, bigger than that. Yeah, sure, there are some breasts here and there, but they’re not the focus of the story. This is a definite Top Ten in my anime realm. The characters are great, the situations move the story forward, and the ending is just what you (or at least I) hope it will be. Of course, I’m a sucker for the Big Romantic Ending, especially if the show’s been shooting in that direction, so that’s not a surprise. It’s just remarkable how they tied up all the loose ends so well. I was expecting to endure this series, given what I’d heard, but instead it was one of those shows that told me, “Keep going, there’s still some anime stuff out there that will surprise you, in a good way!”

Recommended, if you can find it.

Anime round-up

A year or so ago, I stopped watching anime pretty much completely. Does anyone still watch anime anymore? Given the disappearance of Geneon and ADV, and the rapidly shrinking section at the local Best Buy, I have to wonder.

For me, I simply couldn’t escape the feeling that I’d seen all the “good stuff,” or at least the stuff I was going to enjoy, and the subsequent diminishing returns over the years wasn’t even trying to prove me wrong. So I just kind of stopped after I’d finished Gun X Sword. I made an attempt at another series on the pile, Coyote Ragtime Show, but stopped after half of the first episode. It just seemed too dull–too assured of itself to do anything but bathe in the cliches–to fire any positive neurons.

A few months ago, though, I was suddenly seized with an urge to rewatch some of the older shows. So I fired up Gravion, Ghost Stories, Godannar, and just to step out of the “G” section, VanDread, followed by Risky Safety. And I found I really liked them. Aside from VanDread, I wouldn’t consider any of them classics or essential, but they were a lot of fun. And I thought, why not try to ply through the pile of The Great Unwatched?

First off, I decided to push my way through Coyote Ragtime Show. And I managed to get all the way through it, though I can’t say it was fun. It felt more like an obligation, but I did it. In fact, the whole show felt like it was put together as an obligation. I did like the severed android head and her conversations with the policewomen, but this was entirely a subplot.

Ninja Nonsense. You know, the yellow guy can be funny in small doses. Problem: no small doses.

Next up was Mermaid Forest. Well, the artwork was frequently beautiful, but the story never developed. I’m going to guess that the makers thought, “We’ll get to that in season two!” but I don’t think that materialized. Better than Coyote Ragtime Show, but then, what wouldn’t be?

The Soultaker popped up next. This one had Nurse Komugi in it, and it was interesting to see her own show in the shadow of this one. Her show, in fact, started to seem like a “behind the scenes” thing for the cast of this one, which put all those characters (they’re all in both shows, though of entirely different natures) into an interesting light. This show, though… The story is one you’ve all heard before–guy transforms into monster, fights evil, powerful conspiracies, hidden secrets, blah blah blah. Komugi remains the most appealing aspect. The main aspect, however, is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show as stylized as this one. The weird, shifting color palates were a constant presence, making the story actually difficult to follow. No, scratch that. It was hard to tell what the heck was happening, let alone put a plot to it.

Soul Hunter came next. Hey, this one was fun. A bit overlong (the first 26-episode series since my watching resumed) and with really nasty, sadistic villains, still it had some good action and some good comedy. Besides, how can you not give some credit to a show whose hero dresses exactly like a cleaning woman, and where people frequently fly around on giant Beany Babies?

Then I decided to take the plunge and watch Aura Battler Dunbine. Talk about long, this series has 49 episodes. That’s not a typo. Yikes. Still, it was fun, with old-school animation (pre-digital) and one of the cutest characters ever, a little “fiorine” named Chum. But boy, the repetition in a series like this–guys in giant robots fight each other–really goes on and on. “Hey, we wrecked the bad guy’s robot, and now he’s escaping? Should we go after him and kill him?” “Are you kidding, we still have almost twenty episodes to go!” (Not actual dialogue.) If you decide to watch this (it’s long out of print, but Netflix has it) beware that it has an absolutely terrible ending.

I’d seen the first disk of Stratos 4 long ago, and decided it wasn’t for me, but I saw the other volumes for cheap and picked them up. Well, it was enjoyable and most importantly, the characters were likable. Good stuff here and there. I’ll probably never watch it again, but hey it…was a show.

Princess Nine I really enjoyed, though I could have done without all the “love triangle” stuff. But then, in the last two episodes, the show shoots itself in the foot quite badly. No, really–they destroy the premise of the entire show. Which is a real shame, because I thought the story of these girls trying to compete in a boy’s sport really should have had the courage of its convictions. I’m thinking they wanted another season that never came. Well, most of it was fun, with some very appealing characters. Even the rotten rich girl had some depth and dimension.

If I thought Aura Battler Dunbine was long, I had another think coming as I finally broke the seal on the giant set of Card Captor Sakura DVDs. According to the Anime News Network, this one has seventy episodes. Big sigh. My big complaint with anime series is that thirteen shows is sometimes just a hair short of being able to tell a good story, but twenty-six has been, with a couple of exceptions, way too long. Things get dragged out to an unreasonable degree and I end up yelling at my TV, “Will you get on with it!” (My TV is used to this and is pretty nonplussed about it all.)

And for this reason, Sakura, I’m afraid, has defeated me for the time being. I’ve gone through the first three disks and the repetition level has already surpassed Dunbine without breaking a sweat. I may still be popping one of these in the DVD player when I’m an old, old man.

So much for that. Hey, an entire post about watching DVDs! Isn’t the internet awesome? Yeah, I thought so too. Thanks for visiting!

Watching Things

As we wind down, I thought I would list the anime series that I consider highly recommendable.  As a super special bonus, I actually have ten titles in this top ten.  (Well, technically nine and a half…)

The shows listed below are not separated into any categories other than I thought they were excellent examples of story-telling.  Some may be more adult than others, some may have more action, more blood, more comedy.  If I were you, I would never use my recommendations as a viewing guide but just in case, you know, here they are.

In the list below, I have two things of note.  1-do I own the soundtrack CD, assuming one is available?  2-do robots make an appearance?

So, in alphabetical order, and with the proviso that I haven’t seen everything there is (or that I own) and this list may therefor mutate beyond recognition:

Divergence Eve.  Well, I’m leading with the series with the biggest caveat.  (Yes, that’s almost a pun.)  While the show is excellent, it has a terrible case of fan service, to the point where I would always warn someone before watching.  Soundtrack: No (not available, otherwise yes).  Robots: Kinda.

Eden’s Bowy.  It’s an adventure-comedy-fantasy-science fiction show which works on almost every level.  Soundtrack: Yes.  Robots: Kinda.

Gilgamesh.  This is the half-recommendation.  I thought this was one of the best things I’d ever seen, until it self-destructed spectacularly in the last half of the last episode.  Soundtrack: Yes.  Robots: Kinda.

Haibane Renmei.  A beautiful story that feels a little too close to allegory, but manages to overcome that.  I doubt I could watch it twice, though.  Soundtrack: Yes.  Robots: No.

Noir.  The best anime series I’ve ever seen also happens to be the first.  So, yeah, it was all downhill after this.  Stark and harrowing but life-affirming.  Soundtrack:  Yes.  Robots:  No.

Onishi Magical Theatre: Risky Safety.  Cute and adorable like Sugar (see below) with some nice storytelling touches that bring it deeper.  Soundtrack:  Yes.  Robots:  Kinda.

Pretear.  My favorite show.  I’ve written extensively about it elsewhere so I won’t repeat myself here.  Soundtrack: Yes.  Robots:  No.

Princess Tutu.  A marvelous meditation on fairy tales, using the form to tell the story.  With the least likely heroine ever.  Soundtrack: No.  Robots:  No.

Sugar, A Little Snow Fairy.  A cute and adorable story about growing up.  Recommended for all ages.  Soundtrack:  Yes.  Robots:  Kinda.

X.  This had potential to pull a Gilgamesh and I was worried throughout about that possibility.  However, it neatly avoided that trap and had a marvelous ending.  Sountrack:  Yes.  Robots:  No.

A Play For Masks

I bought all the volumes of Gilgamesh, but it was a long time before I watched them.  There were a couple of reasons, but the main one was the character design.  Those downturned frowns and deer-in-the-headlights eyes made all the faces look like masks.  Given the events of the series–all the veiled hints, the “unexplained” origins, hidden motivations and shifting agendas–the look is entirely appropriate; but man, it sure doesn’t make for an appealing look.  Looking at the DVD covers, what we have here is one batch of fugly folks, all right.  

However, I have to note that once I started to watch the show, it only took a handful of episodes before the character designs didn’t bother me much.  In fact, I found a certain icy, precise beauty in some of them.  And as noted, events made the look seem appropriate.  At any rate, they didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the show–and there was a lot to enjoy.  The music, for a start, is excellent–shimmering strings, clattering percussion, steely choirs, battling brass, all of it adding an ice-cold finger down the sides of one’s nightmares…good stuff.  The characters were also uniformly excellent, well rounded and with a depth that was frequently surprising.  No one here is a stock figure, put in place because the show required them to move forward.

The story proper takes place some fifteen years after a world-wide cataclysm.  A mysterious explosion at an archeological dig–thought to be the tomb of the Babylonian king who gives the series its name–changed the structure of the atmosphere, which is now a huge reflecting surface.  All computers (and some other electronic devices) ceased to function, though most other mechanical and electrical systems appear unaffected.  This naturally led to rampaging chaos and panic, world-wide devastation, and a diminished, crumbling state of life for the survivors.  In the early episodes, buildings collapse into clouds of dust in the background, seemingly without cause, and it sure looks appropriately normal for these parts.

The explosion left another side-effect in its wake: some children born since the cataclysm are gifted with psionic abilities, primarily psychokinesis, but also including teleportation and a limited degree of telepathy (they can talk to each other)   One of our main characters, the Countess Werdenberg, has been gathering these children at a resort she frequents, where they are being trained as a fighting force.  Because there’s another group of powerful children (teenagers by this time) called Gilgamesh, who seem–“seem” is an operative word for this show–seem to be working toward ends inimical to the survival of the human race.  Both sides have been aware of each other for some time, but they lack a trigger to bring their hostilities into full flower. 

That trigger arrives with our main characters, Tatsuya and his sister Kiyoko.  Both Gilgamesh and the Countess’ forces (called Orga) want them to join their respective sides.  By force if need be.  Both sides are reluctant to reveal any information, both are determined, both are dead set on victory.  Tatsuya and Kiyoko are caught in the middle.  “Whose side are you on?” is the series tagline and it is to the makers’ credit that it is several episodes in before we know where we ought to stand.

And as the show progressed, I was struck by how excellent it was (as noted above).  By the time I was through the sixth volume, I was nearly convinced that I was watching a masterpiece, on the level of Noir.  Like Noir, the show was about characters trying to wrest the hand of fate from their lives and make their own way in the world.  Like Noir, too, the show is dark and gloomy–the palette seems to be (but isn’t) entirely shades of gray and black, with stark white faces poking through the shadows.  There’s an air of depression and desperation over it all, but then, one can’t have everything.  Humor is conspicuous by its absence, though there are some wonderfully human moments where the characters do manage to have fun.  (A snowball fight via telekinesis is a highlight, and there’s a marvelous scene where Orga plays a game of psychokinetic “catch” with a manhole cover.  It swoops and dives dizzyingly through the city streets as they toss it around.)  The story at its heart is a human one, and the makers seem to recognize that our species does have some traits that make us worth preserving, and those traits are worth celebrating and defending. 

You’ll note, though, that I said “nearly convinced” above.  I’ve seen too many anime series shoot themselves in the foot in the final stretch for me to wade naively in all wide-eyed.  Also, none of the anime blogs that I regularly read seem to have mentioned this show at all (note: I did not do an exhaustive search).  There’s just no way that I, the anime tyro, am going to be the first one to find a masterpiece that they somehow missed.  So that was something of a worry.

My philosophy, however, it to put such worries aside and just watch the show for what it has to offer.  Good or bad will come in the watching, and not in the sideline opinions.  So I put in the last disk, and started watching.  Episode 24 had what looked like a minor misstep, but episode 25 had one of the best scenes in the entire show–a dinner party wherein our main cast seemed to shed many of the masks and acknowledged how much they all benefited from, and needed, each other.  As I said before, but it bears repeating, despite the gloomy, heavy-hand-of-fate background that the story played out within, the makers seemed to know that what makes a story is the humanity of the characters, the things we all share so that when watching, we can see ourselves and our own possible choices in the actions on screen.

Episode 26 (the final episode), started out reasonably well and as expected–the final confrontation between the two factions.  And there and then, in the second half of the episode, the makers kicked the struts out from under the structure they had painstakingly built, and the entire thing collapsed into a choking cloud of dust.

I could not believe what I was watching.  How could the folks who’d brought us so far…do this?   How could they so take what they’d made and twist it so horribly?  I’ll give them this, the ending they chose was always within the realm of possibility, and the final scene before the credits (and immediately after) seemed to say that the makers hated this ending too.  (Not that that really helped, mind.)  But otherwise, what I saw was an ending of Gainaxian proportions.  And Studio Gainax had nothing to do with this show.

Other “Gainax ending” endings can be worked around.  If one chooses not to watch the last disk of Mahoromatic, one is left with a pleasant romantic comedy punctuated by android fights.  The ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion can be met with a shrug and a colorful suggestion of what Shinji can do with his own anatomy.  In the end of that show, nothing is resolved with any finality.  The film-makers could (and did) pick the story up again and take it in another direction.

But Gilgamesh isn’t episodic like that.  Each episode builds on the one before, carrying the story with them, so one just can’t watch all but the last and have a satisfying experience.  (Watching the last episode, on the other hand, definitely robs one of any kind of a satisfactory experience.)  The ending makes clear that the story is most definitely over, too; no retooling or rebooting possible.

Never have I felt so frustrated and disenheartened by a show, nor so perplexed at the makers’ intent.  Had it not been for the last ten minutes, I would have given this show five stars and an unqualified recommendation.  Now I feel lost, cold and alone, huddling in the rain beneath that piano like Tatsuya and Kiyoko.

Boring technical note: I’ve long been unhappy with WordPress’ word processor and have looked for an alternative.  The original (superior) draft of the above was written in a freeware program called “Blink” which looked great, but had one little teeny drawback: whatever I saved…wasn’t.  I had to recreate my thoughts, such as they were, with an old copy of FrontPage.  

Blink and you’ll miss it, I guess.   

And Seven Times Later…

Yes, I watched Pretear again recently, for the seventh time. And like the sixth time before that, I worried before my fingers touched the DVD case: would this be the one? Will this be the time when all the flaws and what-not come to the fore, and I get impatient or bored with the show, and put it in a box forever?

Answer: no. I still love the show, and in fact, once it started any trepidation just evaporated and I couldn’t wait to go from episode to episode. I watched the whole series over three days of exercise (six miles a day, too). I can’t believe that I’m still just as enthused about Pretear as the first time I watched it. But damn it, I am.

That’s not to say there aren’t flaws, of course, but the flaws don’t interfere with anything important. Yeah, the art is sketchy here and there, and the exposition-cramming is noticable in episode one. But the sheer joy of the show erases all that. (At least for me, I hasten to point out; I’m sure the mileage for others will vary considerably.)

If someone ever comes up to me and says, “I’m taking away all your anime DVDs, you get to keep one series,” Pretear would be the one I’d choose with absolutely no hesitation. Much as I love Noir and Divergence Eve and the others on my not-quite-ten best anime list, there’s just nothing that compares with this one for satisfaction.

Okay, sorry for raving.  Dunno if you could tell or not, but I just love this damned show.  Another paint blog update “shortly” (if “shortly” is considered in context of the age of the universe).

Thanks for visiting, and see you again soon!

Throwing Up Ghosts

There are many, many tropes in the anime world, but I was interested in three of them in particular.  These three are symbols of emotional expression, and if you watch enough anime, you tend to see them a lot.

The first is the Broken Cross of Anger.

I am SO mad right now!

Sometimes this can appear on the fist as well. 

The second is the Huge Drop of Embarassment, in the case below illustrated with its frequent accomplice, the Cat Lip of Meekness.

I overstepped, and now I hope no one will notice me much.

The last one was the hardest to come by good examples, um, of.  This is the Mushroom-Sign of Relief, though I prefer to think of it as “Throwing up Ghosts.”

Whew!

The last one is the most difficult because it’s so variable.  It can be wide or round, and the “stalk” can have varying amounts of flair.  (I believe these characteristics are due to the amount of relief.)  It also tends to pass by without the benefit of the brain sitting up and saying, “Okay, what are the characteristics of that thing that just appeared?”  (Any discussion of brain-works is, of course, limited to my own.)

So while drawing the frist two were easy enough, the last presented a bit of a puzzle.  Fortunately, Steven Den Beste is pretty much an Encyclopaedia of Anime, and came through with a sterling example of the form.  As a matter of fact, the ghost in the third image was pulled directly from the still he provided.  So there you have it.

For the curious, the above images are from a long-gestating, long-developing project for another site that will probably never be completed, just because it’s the ultimate albatross, and I can’t see it relinquishing that role any time soon.  I mean, it’s so good at it.  In one part of the project, the rough sketch I started with looked kind of anime-ish, so I decided to pursue that angle.  Why?  I wish I knew the answer to that one. 

The reason she looks like she’s in the shadows is because, well, she’s in the shadows.  In a manner of speaking.  If the damned project ever gets finished, perhaps I’ll provide a link so that there’s some context to wrap her in.

Doesn’t seem all that likely, though stranger things have happened.

Sorry about the tiny font; WordPress’ editor is really starting to bother me with the many things it can’t do.  But thanks for visiting, anyway, and be well always.

Perils of Geekdom

So, I was minding my own business, watching Nurse Witch Komugi, when something odd happened. 

The show itself was fine, no great shakes ultimately, but fun enough, with a cute chipmunky opening song, a number of pretty girls, funny jokes, an annoying mascot, and a lot of energy.  Plus random weirdness—the main villain flies around on a giant ice cream sundae, for no real reason that I can see.  The show clearly would like to be thought of in Excel Saga terms (Nabashin himself shows up in one episode).  Fun enough, I guess.

So, as I say, I’m watching while a giant space-girl attacks the Earth, thinking I’m not going to run naked down the street shouting “Eureka!” over this show, when all of a sudden the music changes.

I know that music, I think.

Sure enough, the on-screen credit appears:  It’s Akira Ifukube’s music for “The Mysterians” (here credited under its original Japanese title, “Earth Defense Force”)!

Then, buildings start transforming themselves into weapons and robots, the better to defend us, and gosh if I’m not perking up a bit more.  And then—

A whole row of windmills transforms into a row of Markelites, and when they fire, the rays are exactly like those from The Mysterians!

Needless to say, my journey toward the Nerd Side was now complete, and Nurse Witch Komugi completely won me over.

It’s amazing how something like a poke in the Nostalgia Section can really alter your perception so that something appears entirely different.  But we’re all made of our prior experiences and impulses, which is why we seek out the things we do.  I don’t think there’s any way to overcome that, at least not an easy way.  “I understand even a PISTOL has no effect!”