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26 of 26 episodes seen
The characters all have their own dreams and fears. They all go through their own fully functioning character arcs with a beginning, middle and end for each of them. For example, Lavie is an orphan girl living in poverty with a desire to fly through the Grand Stream in her father’s vanship, but when the going gets tough and she realises there’s things she doesn’t want to do to achieve this goal, she finds her own way. Through a little soul-searching she finds her own place amongst the engineering team. Mullen meanwhile is a lowly musketeer desperate to get away from his dangerous and pointless job. After he goes through his stint on the Silvana he finds what it is he wants to do and how he can help the people around him.
I’ve picked out Lavie and Mullen in particular because they are two of the best characters and offer clear examples of this narrative arc, but even very minor characters going through this arc. When Klaus and Lavie meet their rival vanship pilots from their home town some 20 episodes after being originally introduced, they have been recruited as part of the war effort and all look like it was decisions they made on their own. Their town had been destroyed and they felt this was how they could help. Or the noble’s wishy washy daughter who we don’t see for like 24 episodes after her original introduction until right near the end where we see her working as a nurse in an army hospital, professing how she had found how she can help. Each character goes through a finding their part in the world and fulfilling their potential.
What’s great is each character’s arc and story is integrated perfectly. The best example of this is during episodes around 10 and 11 where the crew on the Silvana all get together for an endurance race that’s actually a front for an underground auction to steal some relic. Through this race format we see what each character is thinking and where they are in their respective arcs. Lavie is trying to redeem herself after blacking out during the flight earlier as she interacts with the engineering crew who are teasing the newbie Mullen who is finding his feet after deciding he wants to stop being a musketeer and wants freedom, who in turn is trying to be useful to Tatiana, the uptight lady pilot, who is busy getting annoyed by everyone around her being tardy while the little girl Alvis is helping the engineering crew and coming out of her shell. It’s seamlessly worked together and fits with the adventurous tone.
The characters are generally pretty great with the unfortunate exception of the main character. Klaus is Blandy McNoPersonality for the vast majority of the show. For the first half he just wanders blindly forward into everything and you don’t get the feeling he made these decisions with any goal in mind. Thankfully in the second half of the show he improves and gets some motivation of his own. Last Exile seems to realise that Klaus isn’t the most interesting character anyway and likes to let other characters do most of the talking. The engineering crew in particular are an eternal source of entertainment because there’s a great jokey camaraderie between them. It’s exactly like you would imagine an engineering crew to act, between all the light ribbing and bullying the new kid and showing off to girls and then all snapping to attention and looking a little embarrassed when one of their superiors walks in on them.
I particularly liked the one bald gay guy on the crew with his fashionable black turtle-neck. I liked him because his gay-ness was never a joke, nor was it ever explicitly drawn attention to, nor did he ever act camp or any of the usual stereotypes you see with gay dudes in anime. It was just part of him. The other engineering crew members made fun of him for liking one of the other guys, but it was part of their usual banter and was definitely nowhere near the jostling they gave the new kid Mullen for fancying their captain Tatiana. The show did have another character in Dio who did some of the things you might associate with vaguely offensive depictions of gay dudes in anime, but they were just presented as being creepy because he was invading personal space, not because it was gay.
This being my second time watching Last Exile and knowing the giant reveal about the nature of the world they live in, I was able to follow the politics and over-arching story way better this time around. I’m a little amazed at how much thought went into this world they created. Most of the world building is completely in the background which nobody ever stands back and explains it all to you. What’s great is you don’t have to be able to follow how the world operates to enjoy the character stories. This means you neither get bored by lengthy monologues explaining how the world works before you can even start understanding the story, nor do you feel confused and frustrated by how little a grasp you have on events. It took me until right towards the end of the show before I realised the reason the Guild controlled the skies in that world is because they provide the engine cores to each nation for their giant sky-ships. This is central to the entire conflict in Last Exile, yet I was never particularly bothered that I never quite understood this. Admittedly that might say more about me than Last Exile, so if you’re really anal about details perhaps this will annoy you.
All this gushing aside from one second, because I have to mention this one episode that almost single handedly undermines the entire fucking show. Klaus has basically no personality but everyone around him seems to think he’s amazing. He gets marooned with the tough captain Tatiana and when they finally get back to the Silvana it is heavily implied that she now has the hots for Klaus. This makes Lavie mad because she has the hots for Klaus. Then Klaus meets with the vice-captain who is about to leave the ship, who then gives Klaus a passionate kiss. Klaus is about 14-15 years old. He’s got Lavie in love with him, who is about the same age. He’s got Tatiana, who is a recent college graduate so early 20’s. He’s now got the vice captain, who judging by the age of her dad is in her early 30’s. Throw in Dio, a 15 year old albino dude, and the gay engineer, who is also implied to have a thing for him, and Klaus suddenly has the biggest harem seemingly out of nowhere without doing anything. What’s worse is it makes all these otherwise independent and incredibly well-rounded female characters act incredibly stupid because they’ve all fallen for this fucking teenager. And then in the next episode they forget about all of that and it never becomes relevant again and you wonder what the hell the point in it all was. Incredibly stupid episode. Also while I’m bitching, the final villain Maestro Delphine is too overdone to the point that I just rolled my eyes whenever she started talking.
Those problems aside, Last Exile is one of the best and most complete adventure anime around. It’s paced perfectly, scaling with each episode and getting gradually more interesting and complex while never losing sight of its core cast of characters. They’re all developed really well and go through interesting arcs with beginnings, middles and ends which mirror the events going on in the world around them. It has a genuinely thrilling ending with a final reveal that is still one of the best in anime. Even its dodgy CGI vanships and sky battles hold up surprisingly well and work within the design of the rest of the show. I didn’t expect Last Exile to hold up because my memory of it faded to the point that I couldn’t remember specific moments from the show that stood out. But it totally did hold up. It turns out that what it does well is just being consistently good in every single area. read more
The comedy in Tonari no Seki-kun is contrasting the absurdity with the mundane. The juxtaposition between the mundane classroom and worries of Yokoi, the distracted girl, and the fantastical absurd creations of Seki, the dude next to her, go a long way to drawing out the inherent humour of his actions. Making a joke about the crushing fear of driving tests is made funnier when presented as someone’s tabletop construction, doubly so when the nervousness is entirely of his own creation. It would be very easy for this formula to base all the jokes around how random the activity Seki is doing because lol random nichijou is my favourite anime ever because I have no concept of what constitutes humour lol random etc. That’s how a fair number of the jokes start out, but they work because of how Yokoi gets invested in the story being built on Seki’s table. She starts trying to ignore him but then gets invested and often actively involved in proceedings. Throwing random shogi at his creation to dramatically change the narrative Seki is building and other such acts make her an active participant in the story and draws the two of them together in a silent war.
That is about it. Every chapter revolves around this formula, with Yokoi and Seki being practically the only characters. They introduce a lady friend later on who gets convinced Yokoi and Seki are dating and, along with a few male characters, but the trick is none of them realise what Seki is doing. The lady friend believes Yokoi’s intense fascination with the contents of Seki’s table are because she’s lovestruck. She may have a point too. The two of them do seem rather taken with each other. Obviously we hear what Yokoi is thinking, but between the facial expressions and reactions of Seki, you get the feeling he does enjoy the attention Yokoi gives him. Yes I’m reading too much into this, but it’s a sign of how surprisingly well the characterisation of Seki and Yokoi is that I’m able to draw these conclusions. Seki is not just a guy who does fantastical things and Yokoi is not just a girl who goes “WHAAAAAAT” at his actions. They are human beings reacting to each other and that’s what makes it funny.
I’ll admit that Tonari no Seki-kun is totally My Kind of Thing. There isn’t anything resembling a plot in the slightest and every chapter follows the same formula. I can see why someone would find this repetitive and get old quickly. But for what it’s worth, I find the author plays around with the inherently funny formula enough that the jokes continue being funny. Give the first chapter or two a shot and you’ll very quickly see what kind of manga it is and whether you would enjoy it. read more
26 of 26 episodes seen
It used to be the case that if you wanted to start a fight in an anime clubroom, all you had to do was stand up and proclaim “Wolf’s Rain is pretentious” and watch the chaos unfold. Fandom has since moved on. Now they get fights about whether Madoka Magica is a deconstruction or not. I’m going to see if I can rekindle a few of those old flames by calling Wolf’s Rain a load of pretentious old twaddle. Also Madoka Magica is a deconstruction. Also also Lelouch is not the cart driver.
Wolf’s Rain is set in the pre-apocalypse where the world is being slowly destroyed by oppressive grey screen filters. The story follows a bunch of boys as they track from city to wilderness in search of a nebulous concept called ‘Paradise’. The boys are actually Wonderful Outstanding Lovely Fellows, or W.O.L.F’s, who have deceived humanity into believing the W.O.L.F’s all look like humans because otherwise humans are just too jealous of the W.O.L.F’s so they try to wipe them out. Along the way each of the W.O.L.F’s go on a voyage of self-discovery while meeting a variety of interesting characters trying to work out why the world is ending.
Despite my snarky tone, there is a lot of good things to say about Wolf’s Rain. The characters are well-rounded and flawed in interesting ways. My favourite characters were normally the humans because the four main W.O.L.Fs didn’t act very human. Which might be intentional, but in particular with the poster boy Kiba it was very hard to get invested in his story when he felt so inhuman with his actions. It was more like he was a robot following a programme in his brain than someone governed by emotions. The humans were way more interesting because you actually understood why it was they were going to the great lengths they did. Some of my favourite episodes were when it was just two of the humans chilling out, chatting with each other. One that sticks out in my mind was when the alcoholic wolf-hunter and the divorced husband spent an entire episode driving across the wasteland. It allowed the anime to show a rare sense of humour while also giving us plenty of time to get deep into these character’s minds.
On a slightly less positive note, while the animation is certainly impressive, the grey landscape on grey buildings on grey characters makes the show very repetitive and dull. 2003 was around the period TV animation started to get to grips with fully digital animation and no longer look universally awful, and Wolf’s Rain is one of the most technically proficient anime from that year. But it’s so grim and grimy and endlessly grey that it’s boring to look at. There’s no stylised decay in the style of Casshern Sins. This is the realistic concrete building apocalypse. It may be intentional, but that doesn’t stop it from being boring. Similarly with the W.O.L.F characters. They are supposed to not feel quite human in their actions and thoughts. It’s a plot point that they act like there’s a radar in their mind governing their actions rather than logical or emotional thought. But that still means they are difficult to have any emotional attachment to. It makes their actions feel like tools to move the plot along rather than that of people.
The tone of the overall story is…I’m not sure if there’s a word in English for it. Full of itself? Head jammed firmly up its own arse? Chuunibyou? Imagine a man wearing a trenchcoat indoors just hiding an Iron Maiden t-shirt with sideburns and a neckbeard. Or a lady with badly dyed purple hair, trousers with 50 million chains and pockets on them and wearing black eyeliner. Or just imagine the early-mid 00′s emo culture. Imagine someone like that watching this show and explaining to you:
“You just don’t understand man. The wolves are, like, misunderstood by society just like me. Other humans just don’t understand them so they have to isolate themselves from the scum. But that’s OK because they are the ones that will achieve paradise when everyone else succumbs the capitalist materialist apocalypse. It will be the noble wolves that reach paradise. I identify with the wolves because society doesn’t understand me so I deceive everyone into thinking I’m human but actually I’m a wild beast who is just searching for paradise. Oh please take me away wolves where I can’t be persecuted hey listen to my poetry about how I became a wolf and got a sexy wolf wife and then we hey wait where are you going pah just another person afraid of my inner wolf.”
The story is supposed to be about the world being reborn to wipe away sin, but humanity doesn’t appear to have committed any sins. The biggest sin they appear to have committed is not have the luck to be born as a W.O.L.F. There’s this over-arching story about how this noble tried to become a wolf, which is far and away the stupidest part of the whole story with the most embarrassingly awful dialogue and dumbest plot twists, who again seems to be only punished because he’s not a W.O.L.F. My snarky W.O.L.F. thing is because there’s no reason as to why wolves are the creatures that open paradise, beyond idk wolves are cool animals. While I thought the anime was generally serviceable throughout the airing run, by the time it reached the end I was starting to realise the whole thing barely had a purpose. The final episodes were just ‘everyone dies in melodramatic fashion’, but I got no sense as to why they had to die so the whole thing felt pointless.
Which leads me to my big final point: Wolf’s Rain is pretentious. It’s plenty ambitious and got loads of highfalutin but no over-arching theme to back it up. ‘Everyone must die for their sins for the world to be reborn and also wolves are cool’ appear to be the extent of the themes. Elfen Lied was also really big around the same time, so I’m just going to blame Wolf’s Rain’s popularity on the emo culture that was hip with nerds at the time. read more
26 of 26 episodes seen
Let me back up and start from episode 2. Gungrave is a gritty crime story about two lovers I mean friends, Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowel, working their way up to the top of the crime syndicate Millennion (the N at the end is how it’s actually spelt, don’t ask). The story mostly follows Harry and his rise to power, making friends and enemies, tracking his tale from the height and back down again. You may have heard from other places that Brandon is the main character, and this is true only in the fact that the camera spends most of its time on Brandon. It’s not actually his story, because it’s hard to have a story about a person who has all the personality and speaking skills of a tub of lard who can shoot people.
It started to get really silly sometimes how utterly stoic Brandon was. It reminded me of silent video game protagonists. Other people would monologue at Brandon about how great he was and how much he must love Harry, then pause for a few seconds waiting for Brandon to respond before going “don’t talk much do you”. It got particularly bizarre when they started ascribing character traits to Brandon that I never saw him portray. All he does is shoot people and stand still. It felt like I was playing Half-Life 2 again where Gordon Freeman somehow becomes bearded Jesus without ever saying anything, except Brandon didn’t jump on tables while people were talking to him.
The story shares a few more similarities with Berserk with the how the burning ambition drives the two characters until things start to get strained (or at least that’s what drove Harry. Brandon was just dragged along like one of those cans on a string tied to a bumper of a Just Married car). I’m going to keep away from spoiling the big twist, although between the first episode and the fact characters keep going “GOSH I SURE HOPE X DOESN’T HAPPEN”, they did a mighty fine job of spoiling it themselves. There’s a fine line between foreshadowing and spoiling and Gungrave passes that line, then sprints away from that line, jumps inside a harrier jet and then flies several continents away from that line.
What’s strange is the thing the show doesn’t spoil is the completely ridiculous introduction of zombies. Out of nowhere, the show turns from gritty realistic crime story to nonsense sci-fi action. They are poorly explained, poorly justified, take up approximately half of the show, could have been removed from the show completely without harming anything, and make the whole thing difficult to take seriously when previously serious characters start sprouting helicopter blades out of their back. The entire arc is a nice 101 lesson in bad writing. What infuriates me the most is there was no effort to explain any of the zombie science. If you’re going to crowbar this nonsense plot thread, at least put some effort into it.
The writing in general is not very good. Between the crowbarred in zombies being terribly explained, characters monologuing at Brandon as though he’ll ever respond, a lots of general other clichés thrown in, it feels like a first draft rather than a finished product. My personal favourite font of bad writing was the scientist dude, whose every line was solid gold. What I loved was nobody seemed to pay any attention during his monologues, with even the chattiest characters turning to Brandon-levels of indifference whenever he started spouting his nonsense about how he must atone for his evil and how he’s going to hell. “I DO NOT DESERVE A NAME, CALL ME N FOR THERE ARE NO NAMES IN HELL”, an instruction I believe nobody ever listened to.
Equally bad but less funny was how the show completely rewrote the history of Big Daddy and Millennion towards the end of the show. Big Daddy was the boss of Millennion (I thought Big Daddy was a title, but even his wife called him that so I eventually figured that his name probably was Big Daddy, son of Mr and Mrs Daddy) and was generally all the things you would imagine the boss of a crime syndicate to be. By the end though he became this mythological figure who created Millennion for Good and Righteousness. Bear in mind that Millennion is a crime syndicate. Bribery, robbery, extortion, assassinations, threats, everything was run by Big Daddy. I started to agree with the character who was calling out that bullshit at the time when we were supposed to be the most against him, which undermined the entire story quite a lot.
At the core of Gungrave there is a fantastic story. At the key moments of Harry and Brandon’s arc…well, OK just Harry’s arc, it does a fantastic job of emphasising their relationship and how Harry got to the position he’s in. The ending in particular is so wonderfully done, far beyond what anything else in the show managed to achieve. A lot of people hold up Gungrave as some sort of beloved classic of the early 00′s, and if it has been over 5 years since you’ve seen it, I can see why you might think that. With enough time all you can remember is the core story of Harry and that ending left nice warm fuzzies. But if those people went back to it today, I can imagine there would be more than a few heartbroken anime fans realising that reality doesn’t live up to their nostalgia. read more
22 of 26 episodes seen
Scamp: Space Battleship Yamato is a TV series from 1974 by Leiji Matsumoto (well, mostly by Leiji Matsumoto, although it’s complicated) about a spaceship travelling across the universe captained by a man with a very impressive beard. It’s one of the most influential anime ever made, considered the point from which anime started to turn towards more serious and complex stories. I shall now ask you to completely forget all of that because instead we’re going to talk about Yamato 2199.
Yamato 2199 had a bit of a strange airing run. Each batch of episodes were first released in theatres as single movies, starting in April 2012, and later released in batches of 4 on home video. It wasn’t until April 2013 that its air run on TV even started. We’re 22 episodes in now, with the final 4 episodes to be released in October. Barely anyone in English speaking fandom is watching it, probably due to its weird release schedule and lack of availability. Which is a shame because it’s a complete remake that requires no knowledge of the original. It’s also a shame because it’s a damn fine anime.
Shinmaru: What really gets to me most about Yamato 2199 is how important everything feels. Not important in the sense of grandness of scope (though there is plenty of that in the series), but important in the sense that everything matters, no matter how small the role a person has in the show. Everyone has a story to tell, thoughts running through their mind, and a heart beating strongly in their chest. The damn doctor barely does anything but get drunk as hell and make sure the captain doesn’t keel over before the Yamato accomplishes its mission, and he’s one of the best characters in the show. Yamato 2199 gives folks like the doc time to breathe and kick it with the captain to philosophize over a few drinks even though every episode counts down the time until the Earth is totally screwed. It’s a classy show like that, you see.
It’s always a challenge to juggle a cast like this so expertly, but Yamato 2199 makes it look easy. Everyone gets the proper time they need to make the intended impression. Every interaction has the potential to be incredibly interesting, so when a character shows up who hasn’t been around for an episode or two, it’s like seeing a good friend who swings by every so often to tell a fun story. That warmth and familiarity is what really stands out to me when I think about the Yamato 2199 cast. Amazingly, the series has established that camaraderie on both sides of the conflict — battles are more agonizing than ever now, because I don’t want to see anyone die. They’re all so wonderful! Except for that fuckhat security officer, that is.
Scamp: The appeal is very similar to that of Star Trek or Mass Effect in the way the character interactions play out. During the down moments you get to learn more about the characters as they sit around and chat. The discussion can be everything from big philosophical discussions about where they are going and racism against aliens to little things like relationships and the weather. These play into the usual climactic battle scene in each episode and arc, so you actually care about what’s going on both on a personal character level and broader plot-level. It’s really well paced, hitting your with the big dramatic moments at exactly the right moments so you understand just what it means to everyone involved when it happens.
As Shinmaru said, they even manage to do this with the aliens. They’re a racist, fascist militaristic regime, but they somehow still feel human…err, I mean Garmillian. They have dreams and beliefs and friends and fears. Even the big boss, who originally appeared comically evil, has wormed his way into my heart through his loyalty and trust in certain commanders. You can start to see why these people admire and look up to him so much. There’s a touch of the Reinhard from Galactic Heroes about him, and that’s not just because of the blonde hair and fabulous cape. But seriously, fuck that security chief.
Shinmaru: That Mass Effect comparison definitely works, particularly if you’re talking the first game, which feels a bit more old-school science-fiction than the other two in the series to me. It hearkens back to when science-fiction was often about pure exploration — worlds, people, concepts. It’s a journey to find and pick at the hard truths of the world. The Yamato has no choice, but to barrel toward its goal, but along the way, the crew cannot help but think about that journey. Are they doing the right thing? Are they doing this for the right reasons? The answers to those questions and others — if, indeed, answers even exist — are rarely easy or pleasant.
You’ve probably gathered by now that this is not an entirely black-and-white affair. There are of course good and bad people on both sides of the battle, and good and bad deeds alike have been wrought by the Garmillians and humans. The hands of neither side are truly clean, but there is great dignity to the way people examine themselves and their beliefs. In the vastness of the universe, there is no absolute right or wrong; the Yamato crew comes to discover this time and again, and yet they press forward, unremittingly, if only because they must.
Scamp: The giant pitched space battles can look a little odd. I attribute this to the CG animated ships looking eerily similar to the ships in Futurama, so at the start I couldn’t take any of the battles seriously. Thankfully as the story progressed, I grew to care about the characters and by extension the battles. Now they could make the battles just be cardboard cutouts of identical ships going pew pew pew with no attention paid to who hits whom with their laser beams (otherwise known as the Legend of the Galactic Heroes approach to space battles) and it would still be riveting viewing.
If there was one criticism I could level at the show, it’s that it’s a little strong on the male gaze. The original Yamato had only one female on the entire ship while Yamato 2199 has several, so congratulations for progressing beyond the standards set in the early 1970’s I guess. The women do all have the exact same body type, packed into a skintight catsuit while the men all wear more sensible uniform. The camera really does like to focus on their shapely backsides. I don’t mind this as much as I’m letting on. It is a really great arse. I just wish the arses varied from girl to girl.
Shinmaru: Yeah, I didn’t think the battles looked amazing at first, either, though they definitely looked a cut above most everything else that employs CG. But I’ve grown fond of the battles, even when they’ve done ridiculous stuff like have a ship that acts like a submarine in space through means I won’t mention here. Or maybe that’s why I enjoy the battles so much. But, yes, the battles grow in intensity and spectacle throughout the series, and once Yamato 2199 puts the screws into folks on both sides, then they’re that much more harrowing.
I’m incredibly excited to see where the series wraps up with four episodes to go. There have been some great reveals regarding the nature of the Garmilas culture and how that relates to their intentions in the war that leaves me with little idea how everything will turn out in the face of the Yamato’s mission. There are so many possibilities; the only thing I am sure of is that the ending will be quite bittersweet, and it’s a feeling that Yamato 2199 has long since earned. The depth of character, story and craft give it a punch that is rare in many mediums, much less anime. I’m clamoring to see the conclusion, but I know I’ll be sad for many reasons when it’s finished. read more
13 of 13 episodes seen
The story is about Stain, a homeless dude living in an alleyway full of rubbish and follows his escapades as he rifles through the seemingly endless piles of junk to find strange artefacts. As a general rule, the weirder the item Stain finds, the better the episode will turn out, which isn’t as often as I would like it. A big part of this comes from the animation not really working if you’re not going to go properly surreal. The characters look vaguely nightmarish with their bug-eyes and unreal movements, which is used intentionally in Popee to make you feel uneasy while Stain tries to tug on your heartstrings. While Stain’s grasp on reality is loose at best, unless it goes truly bizarre the episode rarely leaves much of an impact.
When it does go truly strange though, it works magnificently. I prefer the idea that Stain doesn’t actually have any of the adventures the episodes show him having. He’ll find a dead bird and them in his hunger-driven state will concoct a story involving him tending to this bird’s ailments and building it a shelter. When taking this in mind, the formula works better when some of the darker desires of Stain comes through in the stories. My personal favourite was the one where he grew his own plant lady and spent their nights dancing on the rooftop as aliens flew in overhead and blew up the city. Or where sentient clay takes over the body of his cat and now Stain has a friend in the same shape as himself. These reflect his desires for romance but seen through his equally strong desire for some form of life and green in his dingy alley, or alternatively his desire for friendship but with someone much like himself instead of with his cat.
Mr Stain 2As I said before though, Stain is not nearly weird enough. Apart from one truly strange scene involving a black hole forming in the centre of a cat’s face, the show never made me truly pull a 0_0 face while Popee managed this reaction at least once per episode, usually more. They’re obviously different types of shows. Popee uses the weirdness for dark comedy, while Mr. Stain uses it to show the main character’s compassion. But the weirder it got, the more impactful the compassion through this bizarre view of the world became. It could have been even better than Popee because Stain has heart that does manage to get to you. Well OK, Popee has heart too, but it’s a blackened dead heart while Stain gives you feels.
That said, this director still has a great grasp of storytelling, and there’s a huge amount of imagination on show. The voiceless characters means they over-exagurate everything, but what’s great is how it shows emotion in the non-human characters. The glove that’s trying to rescue the lost little girl, or the robot who just wants people to dance with him. It’s that same Pixar style of emotion through non-human characters that makes it work, even when the character is a flower with very long attractive legs that is merely the concoction of a homeless man’s longing sex-drive mixed deliriously with his gardening hobby. I did enjoy the show quite a bit, and it’s certainly an easier starting point to this man’s style than Popee is, which is like introducing you to swimming by throwing you into the mouth of a basking shark. It’s very short and I would recommend you give it a shot, especially as preparation for the true masterpiece that is Popee. read more
13 of 13 episodes seen
The story follows Kino, a perfectly nice fellow as he travels from country to country on his talking motorbike, staying in each country for only 3 days. The importance behind the 3 day rule is that it is enough time for Kino to see the country and understand its traditions and customs from all angles, but too short a time to have any influence on proceedings. Kino remains detached from proceedings, only asking the probing questions to get to the heart of why these customs came to be.
Kino’s Journey will force you to reconsider your view of the world through its weird parables. The writing is unrealistic and doesn’t flow like natural dialogue should, but that’s not the point. It’s structured in a way to reveal the fallacies behind the world the character’s live in. Every country Kino visits has its own structure that you can obviously see has serious issues, but during the course of each character’s conversation with Kino, it gets straight to the heart of why it is they do not notice the irony of their society’s structure. “None of our people die in war” is a very specific way of phrasing the mindset behind why an extremely powerful country and its equally powerful neighbour can happily slaughter the technologically inferior country and still think they’re living in a more peaceful world. A rather eerie parallel to first world country foreign policy.
Not every episode gets it right though. Episodes 8 through to 11 didn’t do much to light my fire. Particularly the episode about the book censorship and the resistance movement was a complete mess. It did have the odd good scene. I loved the shot of the critics, a bunch of stuffy self-righteous people trapped inside a single room inside a large tower with their only audience being each other. But nothing came together and all its messages got completely mixed up. But thankfully the show made up for this poor run with the last two episodes being arguably the best in the series. Episode 12, the one about how the two advanced countries stopped everyone dying in war, was my favourite of the whole series.
Kino’s Journey is timeless, and could honestly work in whatever format it’s in. Sure the anime itself works. The artwork is unique enough to stand out, stylised enough not to age, and reserved enough to take a back seat to the storytelling. But Kino’s Journey could be live action, a manga, a novel, a flipbook, scribbled on a public bathroom door, and it would still work. It’s themes are universal as long as humanity exists. You might need to change the talking motorbike to a talking hoverboard in the future and change the railroad the three men are working a completely meaningless job on to a friction-free hyper-gravitational pneumatic tube, but there will always be people working completely pointless jobs and not questioning why it is they’re doing it. There will always be people following the beliefs of someone above them despite their obvious stupidity simply because that person they idolise said it was true. There will always be war.
So long as these things still exist, Kino’s Journey will still be relevant. read more
Take 7 Seeds, a post-apocalyptic survivalist shoujo manga. What’s interesting about it is it still has a lot of the same stylings of your typical shoujo manga. For example, there’s the heart-skip panel where the layout of the pages are set with on big strip down the middle of flowers and hearts and sparkles and bubbles, which is supposed to represent the heart of the main character skipping a beat. In your usual shoujo high school romance manga, that scene is used when senpai noticed me~! In 7 Seeds it’s used when the protagonist has just noticed that senpai is being eaten by a giant man-eating plant.
When I say 7 Seeds is a post-apocalyptic manga, I don’t mean some pussy apocalypse. It’s not like Akira or Neon Genesis Evangelion where there was a little disaster but people are still going to school. I mean hellfire raining from the sky, land swallowed up by the oceans, entire human population eliminated. Humanity had seen the apocalypse coming, so they set up the 7 Seeds programme. 4 groups of healthy teenagers were placed into stasis across Japan, set to re-open when the planet became inhabitable again.
For a person like myself who has a big hard-on for apocalyptic landscapes, 7 Seeds is fantastic. There’s the requisite first discovery of the tattered remains of cities that have some truly powerful scenes. It can be the big sweeping shots of Tokyo being reclaimed by the land as the skyscrapers become overgrown, to some really simple little things like a subway car collapsing under the weight of someone simply leaning on it, crumpling as though it was made of seaweed from years of corroding and rust. They go a long way to establishing the setting and giving you a proper feel for the scale of the devastation and where the world is at now.
The planet’s ecosystem has been altered drastically and there’s lots of cool ideas brought in to make nature more volatile. Some of it is your standard angry ecosystem such as giant bugs that plants its eggs into your body, but then there’s more insidious versions too There’s creatures that collapsed in the desert and appeared dead, waiting for the monsoon season to arrive again, upon which they would all burst into life and terrorize the poor group that had set up camp in this calm valley. One of the characters accidentally awoke a monster by peeing on it, causing it to think the rainy season had arrived. Its connection to science is pretty loose, but it plays with these ideas of how the rapid evolution in the post-apocalypse could work in enough crazy unique ways that I don’t mind that they’re perhaps a bit silly.
I do have a bit of an issue with how they depict the characters’s state in this hostile world. Considering they spend an awful lot of time crashing through undergrowth and being hurled into the water, it’s surprising how intact a lot of their clothes are. The story seems to gloss over a lot of the general day-to-day details such as how they get food, how do their shoes stay intact through so much travelling, how are they able to transport the amount of gear they would need to survive from place to place, and a bunch of other details. Maybe they raided a surprisingly intact clothes store at some point and their bags are full of spare shoes and t-shirts. Or maybe the people who put these teenagers in stasis in the first place gave them the most resilient clothes humanity could develop. It seems like a strange complaint on my part, but given the manga spends so much time emphasising how inhospitable the planet has become, it pulls me out of the experience somewhat.
The story jumps between the groups within 7 Seeds that have been left on the planet, showing us the different group dynamics and how they each dealt with their situation. There’s also the occasional story that jumps to before the 7 Seeds were released and how humanity started to prepare for the coming apocalypse. You didn’t think humanity only had one plan, did you? The one involving the kids who were all jacked up on steroids and bred to be the best of the best was particularly memorable, especially the grim way the arc ended. I won’t spoil, but it’s one of those endings that makes you put your book down, breathe out deeply and then go outside and watch rabbits frolic for a while as you contemplate how lucky you are.
The most impressive feat of 7 Seeds is that, despite jumping from story to story, it manages to make each individual story compelling. Each one is meticulously planned out. Each character is noticeably different with personality and goals and fears that makes the group dynamics in each story fascinating. The focus on the manga is more on the broader picture of how we will face the apocalypse and how people react in these harrowing situations, but it never forgets that these people are humans. As much as I’ve got that hard-on for general post-apocalypse landscapes, the real meat here is in the people and how they react to the situation. The author is a truly fantastic storyteller.
It’s a fucking long manga by the way. There’s 25 volumes out at the moment and still ongoing, and with anything that long there’s bound to be some nitpicky problems. The art isn’t fantastic. Sometimes the squiggly way the lines are drawn means I can’t tell where one object begins and another ends, leaving me staring at a page for several seconds before I realise “oh right, she’s wrestling a mutant crocodile”. It’s also completely humourless, which might fit something this grim, but when a character is supposed to be the Funny Guy, it never comes across well. There is a way to work dark humour into a story like this, but the author never bothers. Maybe she’s aware she can’t do humour so simply never tries, which is probably for the best.
But these, and the earlier minor clothes problems, are but little flecks of dirt on an otherwise monumental achievement in storytelling and overall grimness. Now if only anime producers would adapt shoujo manga like this more often, rather than high school romance #5019 in which the most popular guy in school inexplicably falls in love with bland shy female lead because he is secretly a vampire walrus or whatever. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
The movie has three main goals: Sell you on cycling as a sport, sell you on Andalusia as a place, and connect the two together into the main character’s story. On the first two points it does really well. I know nothing about cycling nor any of the tactics that are involved. Like a lot of athletics, I tend to think that there are no tactics beyond just cycle faster than anyone else. Summer in Andalusia definitely sells me on the concept that there’s a lot more going on, between the importance of the following pack and the teamwork involved.
It does all the right tricks to make the concept interesting. Delivering the rules of the race in normal conversations between the characters that also serve as character and world building. Dropping a plot twist 15 minutes after you understand the importance of what just happens, so you get that “oh shit” moment where you realise how dramatic that twist is. By the end, when the characters enter the final straight, you understand the importance of everything so the final few minutes can just be all exhilaration and drama and random references to Didi Senft (google it) and you don’t need characters explaining to you what’s going on. It’s fantastically well paced and well told.
Arguably one place the movie doesn’t do so well is characterising the key rivals in the race. The main character is the only one who seems to have a personality. This isn’t much of an issue because the battle is mostly within the main character’s own mind. It’s all part of this larger theme of the main character trying to escape his family life and Andalusia in general, but coming back and realising he is at home here and fighting that feeling. It’s not as well worked in as the rest of the story, since it leaves it a little too vague by the end and I’m not really sure what the main character achieved. He acknowledges his homeland of Andalusia as not being completely terrible I guess?
The movie does a really good job of selling Andalusia, but when I say that I don’t mean as a wonderful place all the time like Neo-Venezia or something. They actually paint it as a sweltering, barren, near-desert place, but one that the people who live there are really proud of regardless. There’s a lot of attention to detail with the backgrounds and setting the tone of the land. It’s really well directed in general and has the feel and look of a Ghibli movie. This is probably because Summer in Andalusia basically is a Ghibli movie. It’s directed by the animation director of stuff like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away and is animated almost entirely by Ghibli staff too. Clocking in at barely 45 minutes, it’s over pretty quickly and paced really well. Comes with my firm stamp of recommendation. read more
13 of 13 episodes seen
I can see what they were going for with this adaptation. It shoves back in the face of the people who saw, in what was supposed to be a story about our creepy desires to defile the ideals we hold to be pure, an overly elaborate piece of NTR erotic fiction. These are real people, not the idols that you fetishise. It's supposed to heighten the sense of unease we get over the actions the characters take in this elaborate piece of NTR erotic fiction. At least, that's what I think it's supposed to be doing. It's certainly what a lot of the early chatter around this show suggested it was trying to be. Problem is that this was not only poorly implemented, but also seemed to have fuck all to do with the main theme of the actual story Flowers of Evil was telling.
Tell me Flowers of Evil, what are you supposed to be about? Is it about the mind-numbing mundanity of everyday life and screaming to get out, or is it about wanting to defile the things you hold pure? Because one half of the series focuses on one of those themes and the second half on the other. You could argue the two are connected, but then you'd be wrong. The directing likes to spend forever showing a decaying town and characters walking really slowly along streets with the only background music being a man randomly hitting a piano key every 10 seconds. I guess this is supposed to show how friggen boring everyday life is, although that's the director deliberately making his show boring and tedious to watch to make an artistic statement, for which I would like to kindly ask him to please take his head out of his own backside.
The second half of the story tries to focus more on trying to escape this mundanity, but this mundanity is presented as a crappy thing. The idolisation of purity is presented as a more careful balance between whether purity or defilement is the way to go. There's one attempt made in the entire show to marry these two scenes in an absolutely amazing scene at the end of episode 7 where the two characters destroy a classroom in a giant obvious metaphor for sex. But the series seemed to blow its load in that episode and after that spent its time piddling away doing next to nothing. Then again, before that scene, the show spent most of its time piddling away doing next to nothing. At least then it was novel and I could kid myself this was going to lead to something. Spoiler warning (although this isn't really a spoiler at all) no it doesn't go anywhere. Instead the show ends on a fucking montage of all the things that happen later in the manga that will never get animated because this show was never going to get a sequel and was pathetically stupid of the creators to even think that it would.
The biggest problem of all is simply that it's a goddamn boring anime to watch. Once the novelty wears off, and it will, you come to the realisation that only one thing happens per episode. No really, only one thing happens in each episode. The rest is padded with shots of people walking and the main character panicking. The camera liked to linger on the town falling apart, which I think was supposed to tie into this idea of the town being decaying and boring. But the show also lingered on Nakamura, lingered on the main character, heck it even lingered on the picture of the poet the main character kept in his room. This rendered the entire directing choice of lingering on anything completely pointless and only served to drag out the episode even further, which on reflection probably was the only point. The main character...also talks...like this...most of...the time...taking...deep breaths...between every....other word....he says. It's supposed to show his panicked mind, but I couldn't take it seriously after a while and just started hearing the kid from Malcolm in the Middle in the wheelchair with the missing lung.
Also I'm just going to say it: The rotoscoping looks dumb. I'm not a fan of this animation technique even when it's done well, but here it has characters spazzing out when they move and that curious way faces aren't drawn in when they're too far away from the camera but as they get closer the faces get drawn in as though we're on a crappy video game system and the textures only just loaded in. They got people in their 30's to play these middle school kids so it's way more difficult to swallow their middle-school stupidity when you can clearly see they don't look 14. Sometimes it's able to capture these wonderful moments of expression on their faces, particularly the joy on Nakamura's face during the classroom destruction scene, but most of the time their features look like they're are drooping off their face like they're made of plasticine and they've been out in the sun for too long.
I do appreciate the effort, and at the time I did enjoy picking Flowers of Evil apart to get at its juicy core themes. Unfortunately the more it went on and the more I picked at it, the more it started to come apart for me. There's evidently fuck-all enjoyment you can get from it on a surface level, and it was clearly asking to be picked apart for its themes. I like that it got weird moe fans all angry over their beautiful manga waifu longer being pretty, but stripping the sexuality away from a story that was precisely about dealing with sexual urges diminishes the point of the story in retrospect. All in all I'd class the whole thing as a failed experiment. An interesting experiment certainly, albeit one that is very boring to actually watch. read more