Saturday, 30 November 2019

Evangelion 25&26

A surface level explanation of the themes and the prerogative explained in the final two episodes of the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, focusing specifically on Shinji's revelation in episode 26. Once this point is conveyed and Shinji understands the concept, he is congratulated by all those around him for his first original thought in the climax to the series.

The final point of the infamous last two episodes of Evangelion are that one should learn to be comfortable with hurting others rather than always letting the expectations and desires of others guide their actions.

Shinji learns that he can act upon his own wants and act selfishly sometimes, since making himself happy will, in turn, make those around him happy also. If someone blames another for looking out for their own interests, they are at fault instead of the perpetrator since it is everyone's primary responsibility to look out for themselves rather.

Hating yourself for your own self is not an excuse for attempting to alter your self, sometimes it can be necessary but should only be attempted through an active decision to do so. Otherwise it will cause you to lose your original form and you will be unable to regain your true self. This in turn is improper to your ancestors and teachers who you have grown up with.

Try sometimes to be outspoken and to relay your true beliefs, rather that portraying an facade attempting to fulfill the implied motives of others. While it may sate someones expectations, it is always better to exceed or subvert them in a way in line with your own self. Those who harbour resent for those actions that come from your heart, are themselves in the wrong, not you.

[Image lost. Cap of Rei, Asuka and Misato standing over Shinji from ep25.]

One is never able to fully live up to others' expectations when constraining oneself completely to those peoples' own paradigms.

[Image lost. Cap of congratulations scene from ep26.]

True admiration comes from one's own original thoughts.

[Originally posted on the 13th of August 2019.]

AAT: Kamui no Ken

Set at the climax of the Meiji restoration, Japan is in turmoil after a decade of fighting over the future of the rapidly changing country. Our protagonist, Jiro, lives in the far corner of Honshuu, in the small town of Sai on the Tsugaru Straits. Even here he cannot escape the turmoil of the times, and he returns home one day to find that his only (adopted) family members, his Mother and older Sister, have been assassinated by a mysterious shinobi. The village people, who had never trusted the adopted Ainu boy, blame Jiro for their deaths and he is forced to flee his home. This scene is a great start to the film, setting up the time period, the location and the main character very well within just a few minutes. The directing is very much from the perspective of Jiro, with the anonymous ninja's appearance being half from imagination. The sound design is intense, with the animation being synced up to the beats of the songs, something that is rare in Japanese animation outside of OPs due to the usual disconnect between the audio and animation departments.

The story then follows Jiro on a journey around the world, fleeing from a malicious Buddhist sect and learning the secrets of his dead father. He learns of a great treasure across the sea and sails first to Kamchatka and then to America. It is there that he meets a helpful American writer in a bizarre scene: Mark Twain. It does feel as though the scriptwriter just decided to have a famous contemporary American appear, since Mr Twain doesn't seem to have much of his elegance and seems to be some sort of traveling expositioner as his famous encyclopaedic knowledge of geography comes in handy and he sends Jiro to the location of the treasure

Set in a very definite period of history, the film seems to depict the time with some sort of authority, or at least that of which takes place in Japan. Multiple accurate historical events are described and portrayed, sometimes with transitional frames giving you some historical backdrop. I don't know if these were meant to be educational or are just there to keep the viewer from confusion. The rarely acknowledged (in the West at least) Ainu people are also a focal point of the narrative, with Jiro being one and often being singled out for that fact. The Ainu at the time still lived lives quite separate from the mainstay Yamato culture, and large amounts of them still lived in Yezo and Chishima (now Hokkaidou and the Kuril islands). During the final stages of the Meiji restoration, the fighting would stretch out to the edges of the Japanese realms and the Ainu would suffer much real and cultural loss in the decades of power consolidation that followed. Traditional dress, food and living are all portrayed within in the film, and taking the perspective from within the ethnicity paints a sympathetic picture for the old group.

The film does suffer from its eclecticism however, the writers' obvious lack of knowledge of the contemporary West shows, and the antagonist is so archetypically evil that he is rather uninteresting in himself, and some of his powers and strategies seem ridiculous and underdeveloped. Sometimes there are potentially interesting themes that are introduced, such as American slavery, but not ever addressed in any intelligent way. While I do think the story from afar is a solid one that stands up well entertainment wise, the theming seems to be too clustered and unsure of itself to be good, while also making everything far more confusing, a common complaint from viewers.

This wasn't the film that I had originally planned to write about next, but I never got around to rewatching Gundam F91 and trying to talk about it from memory proved unfeasible. So from now on I won't be announcing the next installment, you'll just have to wait and see. Bye for now

Originally posted on the 10th of August 2019


If you've ever seen or heard any of MADOX-01, it is probably from the first minute or so of this 45 minute OVA. A ridiculously highly detailed and mechanically correct sequence of the titular MADOX mech in it's start up sequence, animated painstakingly in its entirety by just one man: Hideaki Anno. Anno's work as a key animator is often overlooked for his later directorial works, but his work in the field of both mechanical animation and character/mech design can easily stand on its own merits too. From the God Warriors in Nausicaa to his work on the original Macross, The Wings of Honneamise or in General Products merchandise design, Anno was already a big name in the Japanese animation scene before his rise to directing stardom. The scene, while it is the best of the OVA, is very technically impressive, and the rest of the plot and goings-on of the video stand mainly as a backdrop for the MADOX to show of it's hyper-real and down-to-earth form.

Much of the appeal of this OVA is the way the mech seems to be a completely reasonable piece of mechanical prowess with even 1980s technology, whether it truly would be is another question, but seeing something so tangible and yet so cool makes you feel the desire to have one yourself much stronger than in a more fictional setting. While mechs from UC Gundam or the like seem to be somewhat grounded in reality and the laws of physics, there's nothing more titillating to a young adult male than a mechanical death toy that seems like it could be a reality within just a few years.

The story itself, serving as a vessel for cool robot action, is barely worth a mention. With a main character that seems more romantically involved with his bipedal tank than his supposed love interest, the story involves mostly his destruction of personal and public property around the city along with the not-quite-manslaughter of dozens, all while somehow managing to maintain the moral high ground of a confused teenager. I came for the mech, and I stayed for the mech also.

Merely proving the explicitness of this being the height of war-otaku fanservice, the OVA shipped with a mini-documentary showing the JSDF blowing stuff up with tanks, describing and showing off the different military equipment seen throughout the OVA. Something that I, not being particularly versed in cold-war era Japanese military equipment, failed to notice at first. I'm more of a WWII guy. But upon inspection it does seem, rather unsurprisingly, that every tank, chopper, etc appearing in the OVA was the cutting edge of military technology at the time. I can only imagine the military-fanaticism on both the side of the intended consumers and on that of the creators, a fanaticism which is becoming surprisingly rare, or at least under-represented, in modern otaku media.

Another interesting point is that of this OVA being the inspiration for the most autistic satirist in the universe's pen name, Maddox. While in recent years he seems to have gone the way of the lolcow, Maddox's older, hyper masculine image fits my idea of this OVA's intended audience so well it's almost worth twenty million dollars.

And that was my second entry into my new blog-series that I will 100% see out for many installments to come and not forgot within a month. Next I will be covering the 1991 Gundam film, Mobile Suit Gundam F91. Bye for now!

Originally posted on the 3st of July 2019

AAT: Lupin III The Castle of Cagliostro

Coming off the back of his first major lead directorial role in 1978's Future Boy Conan with Nippon Animation, Hayao Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro is a high-budget spin-off from the highly popular Lupin III franchise. Known for it's thrilling but light-hearted action and gritty James Bond feel, the franchise is one of anime's biggest and longest lasting. Miyazaki had previously directed several episodes of the original TV show, along with his professional partner Isao Takahata. The two would, along with producer Toshio Suzuki, go on to form Studio Ghibli just 6 years later. The film's plot is a standalone story, and while it stars the cast of previous works, is completely digestible and fully enjoyable without any previous knowledge of Lupin & co.

Set in the small (fictional) Italian city state of Cagliostro, the film portrays a whimsical ideal of post-war Europe, evoking feelings of art-nouveau and an almost American stylisation of an ambiguous European culture. The petite town lorded over by an overtly fantasy castle and it's count* serve as the backdrop for a classic heist story, albeit a very much child-friendly one. In fact the film has been critiqued as being a departure from the more adult dialogue and gags of previous Lupin animation into a style very reminiscent of Ghibli's forthcoming staple of family-oriented composition: aimed at no age-group in particular, or rather aimed at many age-groups simultaneously. This itself is actually rather rare within manga and anime, with almost all content being built ground-up for a specific audience and controlled content-wise by strict anime timeslot or manga magazine requirements. But such is otaku media, and Miyazaki (and actually even moreso Takahata) are very much not at all otaku directors, or they would never admit it.

The story is very solid, following almost, but not quite, predictable beats as Lupin uncovers the mysteries of Cagliostro and meets characters, both old and new. A slow drip-feed of the classic Lupin cast over the film's course leaves no one left out. The princess character of Clarisse is a standout for me. Despite being a Nausicaa recolour (or vice versa?), Clarisse plays both the damsel in distress and actionable Bond heroine. At first unsure about the international criminal that has broken into her sleeping quarters, she quickly learns that her situation is more dire than she first realised and that her best shot at situational escape is to team up with the rugged and devilish Lupin. For whom she quickly falls for. But interesting the romance is requited since it Lupin seems to have legitimately fallen for the princess' royal mode. The two uncover the secrets of Cagliostro and in the end the villain succumbs to his own downfall due to his greed. The climax of the film, the clock tower scene, is a perfect portrayal of the diasma between the greedy and sinful lord and the moral but wrongdoing Lupin, with the innocent Clarisse having to decide between which side of the clock to turn to. Blinded by his greed and his lack of perspective the Italian noble is defeated by the absurdly long arm of the Japanese police force. As Lupin holds Clarisse, the sun rises upon the true secret of Cagliostro...

The final scene of Lupin riding away in his first generation Fiat 500 feels prematurely nostalgic: leaving behind the girl he did truly love, but not wishing to involve her in his life of criminal debauchery. 'Mono no Oware' I mutter to under my breath. I can already imagine how Clarisse will remember the occurrences of the film as a dream-like memory, as she goes on to become the grand duchess (not countess) of Cagliostro she will look back fondly on the long-gone mysterious man from Japan who saved her and showed her passion.

*This may be slightly pedantic but Cagliostro is explicitly a grand duchy, so why then is it under the control of a count? That would make it a county. The correct title would simply be a grand duke, come on this is easy.

This is the start of a new quick-review series where I will be talking about the ancient anime that I watch. In this context, ancient will mean anything made before the date of my birth in 1999, and seeing as in this medium anything older than a decade is quickly pushed into the old bracket, I think this is a fair estimation of the term. Next time I will be reviewing the 1987 Mecha OVA, MADOX-01, bye for now!

Originally posted on the 1st of July 2019

Rise of the Otaking

The Otaku's Journey is the evolution of the autistically-inclined from bland antisocial protagonist through edgy pretentious asshole to influential thought leader. The journey from Shinji to Araragi to Kamina is usually a metanarrative with the watcher, with each show appealing to viewers at a specific point on their journey. Many never reach the heights otaku-power can bring, and many are unfit for it; but the stories of those who do leave us in their wake inspire those who grow to believe in the burning otaku spirit and reject the heroes of the masses. Fighting against a world pitted against them, treading in the footsteps of those greats who came before, all towards a height that the mob would see as a failure.

The manner of shows your average anime watcher enjoys follows a predictable pattern. Broadly appealing action adventures lead the way into more depraved and adolescent stories of harems and power-fantasies. To separate themselves from others and in the quest for an ego, we try out more experimental shows: psychological explorations, arthouse insanity and plotlines we neither understand or even enjoy, but driven by a curiosity to understand, to stand on the same pedestal our otaku idols stand on and to vie for the otaku throne. Next comes an exploration of the classics, hoping to gleam understanding from the anime that inspired our heroes, the foundations the culture we've now found ourselves at the heart of stand upon. Again, we push through until we do understand and enjoy them, anime becomes as much of a quest and ardour as it is a enjoyment. Before long we become those we respected all those short years ago, blogposters, forum gurus, expert otaku warlords. Lesser otaku respect our voices, we yearn to teach others of our path, and to keep our culture alive for the future of otakind. Our otaku heroes line the walls of our mind. A great wall built from the wispy hairs of Hideaki, the eyebrows of Hayao and the beard of Leiji. Finally proud of our home and masters of our lineage. Now point to the heavens and become the Otaking! Every anime we watch is for research, every word we speak is a reference, every penny we make is for the craft. All hail the goddess. All hail the king.

Moe, Iyashikei, Newtype, Isekai, Shounen, Senpai, Tsundere, Yuri, Mahou Shoujo, Tokusatsu, Doujin, oldfag, normalfag, 3x3, AOTS, Weeb. None of these words are in normal English parlour, but yet you understand them without a second thought. Deep into an incestuous subculture that you've grown to love. Loli is a legitimate artform, tranportation to a new world is boring, chauvanist harems are an everyday occurance. You're so fucked up. See, even that was a reference. You've finally reached a state of otaku collective nirvana: the wired, a psycofield phenomena, human instrumentality. One with the otaku state of mind. You've finished your coming of age story.


Originally posted on the 31st May 2019

Understanding Mono no Aware

Mono no Aware (物の哀れ) is one of those Japanese literary phrases that has no translation. Wikipedia offers its best with "the pathos of things" or "a sensitivity to ephemera", both are decent readings, but more is needed to understand what that actually entails.

In otaku media, Mono no Aware is a key idea, and is often applied to typically slow-paced, Slice-of-Life shows, but can examples can easily be found across the entire scope of anime/manga. It tries to express the transience of everything as a source of beauty, like how cherry blossom finds it's beauty in its impermanence, you wait the entire year and for just one week, the usually plain cherry trees turn Japan into a bright pink confetti storm. This may be an amazing experience, but you can bet that if this was a more permanent affair, the citizens of Japan might get fed up with the sakura slush covering their streets, clogging up their drains and making everywhere smell of a nu-age cosmetics store. The beauty comes from the excitement of the build-up, the grandiose of the event, and the nostalgic longing for it again once it is over.

Many stories that implement the idea take a very laid-back take on the idea, conveying the two sides of impermanence: the beauty of the moment and the sadness of the end. The seminal work of the genre is Hitoshi Ashinano's 90s manga "Yokohama Shopping Log", about the life of an Android girl in a post-climate change world, where, even though humanity has slowed down considerably, she is the only part of the world that is unchanging, as an android that never ages. It chronicles around 20 years of her life, and the lives of those around her; and while every chapter is under-spoken and quiet, the entire experience pulls you into a slow mindset where the passing of time is hard to comprehend. When I was reading it, a strange feeling of serenity took over me. I started viewing things from a perspective I'd never thought of before, viewing the world from above and watching everything move below me. A morose mindset being satisfied with the present, and understanding that since nothing lasts for an eternity, eternity is a meaningless concept. So instead of focusing only on the big events, the mundane, boring parts of life are more important, since they take up the vast majority of your time.

It's an incredibly hard idea to convey, but I'd describe my experience as: "an admiration of minutia, a respect of beauty, and a contentment with the present; all through an appreciation of transience."

The typical show one would ascribe "mono no aware" to is synonymous with an "iyashi-kei" tag like for Aria, Non Non Biyori, Girls' Last Tour or Hidamari Sketch. But I would say that the lense of mono no aware can also be placed over a huge plethora of shows, and even is the core of many genres. One example is high-school anime. A hugely popular setting for anime of all types, but the core archnarrative of a school experience is as follows: "new school: children arrive in a new scary environment; initiation: students find friends, interests and hobbies; daily life: now happy at school, the students live their youth and grow; graduation: all so quickly, the end arrives and the everyday life is changed forever. This has obvious bearings in mono no oware, with there being many a SoL school comedy anime covering all these points and the relatable idea that the seemingly endless school days will some day reach a finale, and the nostalgia that people have toward that time. Examples of shows that follow the narrative explicitly and to completion are Azumanga Daioh, Manabi Straight, K-On and Genshiken, or less directly by shows like Haibane Renmei or Mahoromatic, where the "school" can be replaced with its components of "a new world", "everyday life" and "the foreseen ending".

I'm sure this story arc has reminded you of "the Hero's Journey", and of course it, as every story type, it fits into the pattern: with the unknown world being analogous to school. But the thing that makes this breed of storytelling different is the lack of a revelation or transformation, or even a climax whatsoever, replacing these with a gradual change in the characters as they have a slow and periodic revelations and transformations throughout the time we spend with them. This is a much more realistic view at the changes we as humans take throughout our lives, and also a very otaku way of telling the story, where vicarious engagement with a normal life through these "realistic" stories allows even the most hikki of NEETs to experience real life. I'm not saying this is a problem, I've learnt a lot about normal life and normal human behaviour through anime, and for many it is a good way to keep you grounded in a reality that we all deep-down wish to engage with, no matter how far our chuunibyou disease may have developed.

I enjoy attempted to categorise things, especially anime, so seeing how I can fit the shows I like into this idea of "mono no oware" is a fun exercise, and engaging with different storytelling paradigms is an experience that changed my life. Many of the stories I enjoy most are appreciative of the idea, along with others that I will also write about at some point. So look forward to my interpretations of more literary ideas through the lens of otaku media.

[Originally posted on the 24th of May 2019]

His and Her Circumstances

Kare Kano was originally a shoujo manga series by Masami Tsuda, and was adapted in 1998 by Studio Gainax and directed (mostly) by Hideaki Anno and bizarrely being released in the West as "Tales at North Hills High" The show itself is a great watch, bucking the trend of 90s romcom and being the last great romance before the genre fell into a gaping VN shaped hole in the 2000s. But in this article I won't be talking about the contents of the show, but rather the strange circumstances under which it was made, the backdrop of the industry at the time and the players involved. 
In the late '90s, Gainax was the big cool studio. Since the 1980s they had become the spearhead of modern anime, with their retail store General Products and their co-founding of WonFes, not to mention their actual animation department, defining a generation of otaku with Ota no Vid and the hugely celebrated Evangelion series. Evangelion had been one of the most ambitious TV anime of all time, bringing original shows onto national television. But when you mention Eva, as well as Gainax another huge name in the industry also pops up. Anno. A cultural kyojin who all but disappears from the industry in 1999, which also happens to be during the time at which Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou was airing. My thoughts are that this is no coincidence, but I'll get to that. Basically, hot of the heels of End of Eva and his arthouse documentary Love & Pop, Hideaki was the king pin of the king studio; the once and future otaking. His next project was an anime adaptation of Kare Kano, from what I can tell a highly popular shoujo manga printed in the prestigious Hakusensha LaLa magazine. Being his 4th director role in under two years (Death & Rebirth, EoE, Love & Pop), the man was on some kind of insane roll and ready to implode as he was already known for doing (see Eva 25/26). These are the actors and this is the stage, so in the words of Drosselmeyer: "Now show me a magnificent tragedy!"

Even from the start there were problems, with the original manga being very female oriented, and very focused on girl drama and the romance aspect. Anno, and the very ethos of Gainax, were at almost the exact opposite end of the otaku spectrum. Being Tokusatsu, military and fanservice obsessed: the bombastic animation, left field story-boarding and bizarro directing of Gainax projects seems like a strange fit to such a series. The adaptation very much accentuates the com in romcom, capping the general comedic vibe with quick tone switches into well placed romantic drama scenes, with the animation varying wildly and the show being very loose with following the storyline and keeping scenes in order. The show was fast-paced for a anime romance, your average show might end a cour of episodes with a confession at most; and that's if their feeling daring today. Kare Kano arrives at the hero and heroine (Arima and Yukino) being officially in a relationship by episode 4, a deviation not only from the norm, but also from the source material. With wacky editing and a much more mature feel, all aspects of the relationship are explored in rapid succession, my balls were basically orange (or whatever the opposite of blue is). The actual show's budget was never high. Being non-action oriented and generally more niche than a shounen show, actual animation cuts are rare, but the mastery of key animators such as Imaishi, Tsurumaki and Ishida combined with Imaishi's storyboarding and Anno directing made every frame appealing, due to it being on screen for a long time, it is the perfect show for reaction images. As the show progressed this fact became more and more pronounced, with backgrounds almost completely being forsaken by the second cour, and even the disappearance of lip flapping for conversation scenes. There's even one continuous scene of a game of Uno played by Yukino's family, an obvious ploy to appeal to the fans of Toei's new franchise, YuGiOh.
According to third/fourth hand sources (trustworthy I know, but what can I do as an English speaker), Masami Tsuda was getting more and more displeased with the adaptation, saying that it was focusing too much on the comedic side of her series and not placing enough stress on the emotional scenes. I'm sure she was also not happy with the story alterations, which is brought to a T in episode 18. At this point the symbolic animation was reaching evangelion levels of ridiculous, Anno had once again brought in Bach as the track and things were heading for something that 90s Japan was definitely not ready for. Anno had two high school characters in a relationship and of age, have sex. Yeah I know, lock the shutters and shut the curtains. The scene was actually sent back to the studio from the TV company for being too explicit (it really isn't but sure). The TV aired version just completely cuts the scene, making a bizarre cut from the two in Arima's room to Arima throwing up in the bathroom and Yukino having just disappeared, the true, uncut version was later included in Japanese DVD releases, but only as an extra. The censored version was also the version released in the US, which is one of the reasons most Western fans have such a bad opinion of the show's ending.
Although it doesn't end there. Masami was apparently so enraged with this, as well as the quickly enclosing TV institutions, that she brought the case to JC Staff (co-producers of the show if I didn't mention before) who persuaded Gainax to persuade Anno to stop being an idiot and direct properly. Anno promptly quit the show. Three quarters of the way through the show he just up and left his position as director. I can only imagine the panic this caused with anime schedules being as they are and Gainax being possibly the worst studio for times of crisis. Hiroki Sato was brought in at short notice, a man who had not directed a thing in his life and hasn't directed a thing since. Hiroyuki Imaishi was also brought in to try to keep the ship afloat as storyboarder. The effect was the infamous episode nine. If you haven't seen it the closest I can explain it is through its obvious similarity to Inferno Cop. Drawings were kept on the original genga for the most part, not coloured, stuck onto lollypop sticks and moved around like a punch and judy show. It's top class Imaishi with scenes that are almost identical to some in Kill la Kill, a show that is still a decade and a half away. Despite the consensus, I'm a huge fan of this episode, crazy practical effects, weird storyboarding and set-pieces that'd do better in an episode of Ultraman. At one point Yukino grows to the size of a skyscraper and fights a photograph of a man turning him into a skeleton.

This whole affair ends with the outro, a live action video of the staff at Gainax bringing out all of the episode's cel and genga, putting them into a pile and setting them all on fire. This is possibly my favourite episode of all anime.

The rest of the series is very toned down, the animation quality recovers somewhat and during his time off, Anno apparently secretly made the final episode's storyboards, which was used for the season finale, a completely new story to cap off the show with a reasonable ending. Oh yes, another thing, once Anno had left the project, he went into hiding and changed his name from Hideaki Anno to Hideaki Anno, a fact shown in the updated OP and ED credits for the show's director role:

[TR: BEFORE- Director Anno Hideaki (kanji), AFTER- Director Satou Hiroki and Anno Hideaki (katakana)]

Anno has never again directed a TV anime, and left the studio several years later.
Masami has never again gotten a TV adaptation of her manga either, with Kare Kano being her most popular work.
And so here we end the story of a insane man and a controlling woman, two artists who wanted very different things and were both left unsatisfied.
These were their circumstances.
His and Her Circumstances...

[Originally posted on the 23rd October 2018.]