140 of 142 chapters read
This is a world where few things are explained. In that way, it reminds me of Haibane Renmei. Mysteries are left open, and the characters come to open-ended conclusions about everything. There is no closure, and no loose ends are tied together. In this sense, YokoKai defies a cardinal rule of Western storytelling. And yet, it works beautifully. The mystery lends to the gorgeous atmosphere, and the gentle sense of wonder. The artwork is stunning, simple yet powerful pen-hatching.
This is a story about humanity, though sparse and pervaded by nature. An unelaborated ecological disaster has cleaved the human population, sea levels rise and carve out new landscapes. Life is simpler in this story, slow. This is, as Alpha says, the twilight of human existence. Humans will pass from this world, and the world will continue on without it. Yet, the world has been changed by the presence of humans, aside from the disaster--plants resemble human technology, and humans have left behind robots, sentient beings who will survive beyond the twilight. There is a gentle optimism in this, a strange constant in a story pervaded by mono no aware, an awareness of transience. But this is transience backed by the constant of nature, and of evolution. It is sentience that is sacred. Robots are treated no differently from humans, for they are human in that most important way. And sentience, the ability to reflect, has marked the world, leaving psychic residue that manifests as shadows, such as the plants.
The multi-task, multimedia-saturated generation must find it hard to imagine such a simple and slow life. The only technology seen in the manga is moderately old or unobtrusive--motor scooters, cameras, coffee makers. The characters communicate by snail mail. Nary a cell phone or mention of the internet, or even television, is seen. Alpha spends entire days doing nothing but painting the shop, riding about on her moped to take photographs, or fixing up an old well. Such a slow pace, unencumbered by entertainment, must seem like the setting for a profoundly boring life. I admit, though I can sit and daydream far longer than most of my peers, I usually want to be doing something cerebral, like reading, or playing a video game. I don't know if this is mostly because of my desire for 'efficiency' (like sitting around leisurely is a waste of precious time) or my scattershot Gen-Y attention span. I admit I have that urge to sit in front of my laptop far more than I should, as do all of my friends--you should see some gatherings, where everybody is in front of a screen--even though I know reading blogs is just as unproductive as sitting around daydreaming. But there is that illusion of productivity, when we sit in front of technology. Then again, plant me in a library, and I'll be entertained from opening to closing. Is reading a physical book any more inherently good, though?
This is also a world of work-life balance. The overworked Japan of today is gone. People work as much as they need to, with ample leisure time. Alpha frequently leaves her cafe for days at a time, and often receives only one guest per few days. And they can sustain this lifestyle because there is zero commercialism--they work for money to purchase what they need. No keeping up with the neighbors. No consumerist lifestyle. Sure, they live in simplicity, but they're happy. They have the basic creature comforts--nay, luxuries, like air conditioning and running water--but that is all they need. We could all take a lesson from this, given our hyper-commercialized and overworked lives. These people shy not from good, hard work, but they work to achieve a goal, not to spin their wheels, or produce more beyond what is needed for the sake of an edge. There is no blind cycle of consumption. And I have found hard work with a purpose is far more cleaning, and fulfilling, than work half as hard with no purpose.
Inherent in seeing the beauty in YokoKai will be the fact that some people will accuse of thinking too hard about all this crap. On its face, this is a manga about nothing, just mundane details of daily life, making coffee, re-building a cafe, riding into town on a motor scooter. That is a deeply Japanese aspect of the work, showing beauty through the mundane without further elaboration. It's left for the reader to decipher. I can't think of any American works even remotely in the mainstream (or sub-mainstream) that have such slow pacing. In pacing, it's decidedly un-American, un-Western. Quite literally nothing happens for long stretches of story arc. Finding meaning in it must seem to many as though one is trying too hard, or is being pretentious. And being accused of being pretentious is almost worse than being accused of being a hipster. I really think only a Westerner with zero exposure to Eastern works could think that.
Let us look at the concrete details. It is a story about cyborgs, the dying human race, and a world after an ecological disaster we caused. How many stories encompass these themes? And yet, YokoKai is utterly fresh, new, and brilliant. I do not say this lightly. Perhaps because I've had such extensive exposure to brilliant interpretations of the ways technology and life will intersect in the future, I've become vastly harder to impress. A lot of mainstream American science fiction has nothing of interest to offer me. See, for example, Avatar, which explores nothing new in science fiction, and explores it far less deftly than many earlier works.
I think some people interpret my cynical criticism of such movies as just that--the hallmark of a critical, cynical, and jaded person. I've been accused of 'looking for things' to gripe about. But I fancy that it is a sign of a life more deeply contemplated and exposed to superior, stunning art. I don't think this makes me inherently better than anybody else, but I do resent being accused of faux-jadedness, jadedness for the sake of being cool. I can be quite the enthusiastic appreciator of beauty.
I think the accusation of 'looking for things' to gripe about, be offended by, etc (itself a classic derailing tactic) occurs when somebody with a deep, extensive understanding of a subject (either through exposure, like art or ally activism, or through living it, as in the case of a member of an underprivileged group itself) is quick to see things others either miss entirely or see as entirely novel. There is a level of expertise common in the accused. Not that there aren't cynical, unhappy people who do find fault with everything, but activists and scholars deeply resent being lumped into that juvenile camp. And because it's an accusation hinting at juvenile nihilism or blind rebellion, the derailing tactic doubles as a discrediting tactic. That nihilism is the flip-side of hipster irony, liking kitschy things because of their perceived lack of value, but in appreciating irony you have to acknowledge there is something inherently inferior or unlikable about the subject in the first place.
Overall, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is a real treat. It's grand, sweet, and breathtakingly beautiful in its simplicity, yet brilliantly imagined. It features a world that unfolds organically for us to discover, and leaves us with a sense of open wonder. It makes me want to drive a moped down an open country road, just for the thrill of being. read more
10 of 12 episodes seen
While these stories are stylistically departed from the original Tezuka manga, they retain a powerful and simple charm. Instead of Tezuka's club-foot pseudo-Gumbyish body types, the characters are drawn in realistic anatomical detail, which I personally like given that the more recent anime adaptations return to Tezuka's art style. This is a dark, gritty world for Black Jack, and many of the visual elements from the movie remain--nearly retro-futuristic technology combined with urban decay. Japanese culture is also deeply entrenched in those cases that do occur in Japan--the final OVA with its mermaid story comes to mind. It is faithful to the juxtaposition of modern technology and Shinto animism still present in Japan.
For better and worse, the animation is highly derivative of its time (mid 90's)--it is high-quality hand-drawn cels, but I would have told the director to lay off the dramatic triple-takes and action lines. It gets maudlin fast.
The political issues are also painfully contemporary. A thinly-disguised (and I do mean *thinly*; the damn flag is the same, Niagara Falls is on the Northern border) United States invades a country under pretenses of correcting a corrupt government when all it wants is oil rights. (Note that this was pre-Iraq, but post Desert Storm). The President speaks of a God-given duty to spread justice throughout the world in the form of forceful policing. Chemical weapons and radiation left from the world wars cause devastating diseases. Biological warfare, something less prevalent in Tezuka's manga, takes a center stage.
I can recommend this to those unfamiliar with the Black Jack franchise given that they are stand-alone stories with little integration into the manga storyline. However, this is not my favorite anime adaptation of the doctor's adventures, despite my love for the pseudo-realistic style given to the character designs. Everything else this OVA does well, the 2004 adaptation does just as well or better, and given how well-done this OVA is, that is truly saying something. Knowledge of the background is helpful but not necessary to understand what is going on. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
The art style and overall aesthetic of the movie is *strongly* reminiscent of the movie adaptation of X, except this is overall a better movie. X made the mistake of trying to condense a long, complex story into an hour and a half. Black Jack wisely shied away from that mistake and focused instead on one story--a mega-episode, if you will, with a higher production value and, as is often the case with movies vs. TV shows, higher stakes.
That being said, the movie lacks some of the simple, powerful charm of Tezuka's manga stories, or even their portrayal in the recent TV series adaptation. This movie isn't intended to be charming--it is dark, gritty, sprawling, and blunt. Black Jack wears a trenchcoat instead of a cape (albeit with his arms out of the sleeves so it flutters like a cape), and he meshes himself in a world that is both sterile and industrial, a sprawling mass of tubing and electronics that could almost be considered retro-futuristic, even given that the anime is contemporary to 1996. The visuals are lush and gorgeous, and, again, like X the movie, are intricately-faceted and often ethereal. Both movies are able to make blood splatter look hauntingly elegant. This is the sort of aesthetic I love, so I'm admittedly biased, but it does what it does *well*, and that is what counts.
My biggest complaint with the movie is that conceptually it does not cover any new ground. We have the Big, Bad Pharmaceutical Corporation performing unethical experiments on uninformed humans, and the movie bashes us over the head with the consequences of trying to transcend humanity, reminding us that there is no such thing as a free lunch and all successes come at a cost. Instead of selling your soul to the devil, you have to sell your soul to the Giant, Faceless Multinational Corporation. The concept that a child growing up in a brutally-competitive, unaccepting, cold environment makes a screwed-up adult hellbent on success AT ALL COSTS (hi, Japan; I think this was aimed at you) is not new either. Granted, this is all the stuff epics are made of, and there is a reason the same themes keep resurfacing in fiction--they are relevant--but compared to Tezuka's creative, quirky way of delivering the same universal messages, this seems weak. I had already guessed pretty much everything that was going to happen two minutes into the movie.
All things considered, though, within the framework of a wider context this is a solid movie title, and there is the potential for those with little understanding of the Black Jack canon to enjoy themselves. It's not very deep and it's not very groundbreaking, but hey, the worst disasters and mistakes are often echoes of the same old refrains we've heard throughout human history. Maybe that is part of the point. Or maybe I'm reading too damn much into this movie. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
13 of 13 episodes seen
The story manages to blend soft, yet interesting, aspects of slice-of-life with haunting and bittersweet themes such as suicide, sacrifice, and redemption. This hints of something intimate from within ABe's innermost heart, something he himself has experienced--and in that rawness, there is a universal quality. Many people in fandom have experienced profound loneliness and depression in a manner that seems to echo throughout the story. Many of us have felt useless, hopelessly misunderstood, and lonely. This is a story of comfort.
True to ABe's style, the artwork for this title is utterly fantastic. The setting is stunning in its beauty, European-style architecture amid emerald-green fields and rust-mottled windmills, harmonized with East Asian-style shrines, festivals, and esoteric memorabilia. The characters' names come from Japanese words for concepts, and the world's writing is in Japanese, so it is by no means divorced from its source country, nor does ABe try. The result is not in the least jarring: if anything, it is merely another aspect of integration, something soft and beautiful and lush. And the clouds--the weather phenomena simply looks fantastic.
If you cannot stand anime with a slow, idyllic pace, or you simply must have action, giant robots, and political intrigue, this is not the show for you. Likewise, if you cannot stand symbolic, dreamlike storylines in which not everything is explained explicitly, this will drive you mad. Otherwise, I highly recommend taking a trip into Gile. It will be greatly worth your time. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
Sometimes I have to wonder if "Conqueror of Shambala" is being deeper than I should give it credit for, but given the stunning depth and quality of storytelling displayed in the TV series, I am inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. I was shocked and dismayed at the behavior and petty idealism of one of my favorite characters from the TV series as portrayed in Weimar Germany (I'll give you a hint: his daughter just turned three), as he was one of the most accepting, intelligent, and gentle people in the series, but we are a product of our circumstances, and as a modern-day American I feel I have no right to stand in judgment of those who were members of the National Socialist Worker's Party in the 1920's. It started out sounding like a true people's revolution, and Adolf Hitler was a true charismatic leader. I just would have expected better of you, Hughes, especially when you outspokenly buy into myths about every race but the Aryan. I pray he came to his senses before Kristallnacht or later became a defector. I guess the upcoming new series will tell.
I guess that was the biggest problem I had with the movie. I felt as though it would be more in-character for Hughes to be an anti-Nazi activist, but our idealizations often do not match with reality. And this brings me to the theme pervading the movie: people destroy so much that they do have searching for idealizations that do not exist. L'arc~en~Ciel expressed it best in the ending theme: "we're letting go of something we never had". Whether it's the mythical land of Shambala, a country for the German people, a scapegoat, Equivalent Exchange, Mustang's ideals of reforming the military, etc, each of the characters faces the realization that he or she must live with the reality life has given, even when it's not pretty, and even when it's heartbreaking.
I find it interesting that Lior and Munich were linked through the parallel universes; both cities were devastated and eagerly looking for a prophet to come and save them and restore them to former glory. This is the destructive side of idealization; people make themselves vulnerable to being used by charismatic leaders. They make themselves gullible. They make themselves terrifying in their devotion to that ideal, even if it means destroying things they see as interfering with their ideal world. Sometimes those things are a scapegoat. You see where this is going. Etc.
I guess this is my very roundabout way of saying that this was a stellar movie, all things considered. It hit me square in the chest and made me tear up, and it ties up many of the loose ends left by the end of the TV series. Roy Mustang is back with a vengeance ready to kick ass, and I hope that he and Hawkeye finally get together. My heart almost broke for Winry. She has become an even stronger, smarter, and more resourceful girl--no, woman--than she was in the TV series. Alphonse is still painfully naive, and, returning to an underlying theme, his idealism and naivity come to bite him in the ass hard toward the end of the movie. Edward has become a little calmer, a little wiser, and a little more distant, but ultimately he is still the same hot-headed, stubborn boy--no, man--that he was in the TV series. The artwork is supurb, rich and realistic, and the music is sweeping.
Though the movie was written to be able to be viewed as a stand-alone, it's enjoyable on a quantum level beyond if you have seen the entirety of the TV series. And, if you plan on seeing the TV series EVER, the movie will spoil it utterly. I cannot recommend it enough to FMA fans. It's bittersweet, strange, and painful, but ultimately, a solid ending to the saga. read more
17 of 17 episodes seen
Nit-picking aside, I'm a sucker for medical dramas, and I have this long-standing affair with Dr. Black Jack. I was afraid post-Tezuka's death the franchise would start to suck, but this show proved that BJ has not lost his edge, no pun intended. Though I can't help giggling every time somebody calls him "B.J." with a thick Japanese accent. You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means. But I digress.
This is one hell of a fun show. The pacing is tight, the action is good, and the characters are clear without being overbearing. There are equal parts action and science and character development. It is nice to see Black Jack's past further clarified, though I have to wonder what Tezuka would have thought of the way the writers dealt with his accident and his childhood. I, for one, enjoyed it, but I am not the original creator. The storyline is more linear and integrated than the original manga, but the overall effect is not in the least jarring. One could view it as a very long movie or story within Black Jack's saga. You have mysterious organizations, greedy bastards, assassins, deadly viruses, secrets, lies, conflicted characters with dark pasts, and all the good stuff.
Oh, and I love that America's answer to everything in most Japanese shows is "nuke it 'till it glows". Lulz.
I highly recommend this show. It's even a good starting point for those who are just getting into Black Jack, though a *little* background would be helpful. I call it the "Japanese Dr. House" when I'm trying to explain it in under a sentence, though Black Jack is significantly less of an ass than House is, but that is neither here nor there. In both shows you have a doctor of unparalleled brilliance being called upon to save those deemed un-savable. The recommendation strength goes up considerably if you are a sucker for medical mysteries. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
Our hero, Matsui, is a doe-eyed, innocent uke who looks just like a brunette Shirou Kamui from X. While waiting for his friend Yoshino to get them sodas after watching this guy who looks like Tamahome from Fushigi Yuugi swim, said guy, henceforth Yuuji, accosts Matsui on the bench and takes him to a bar where some guys throw money in after betting on a high school swim match. Matsui is stupid enough to drink and smoke what they give him, and he eventually leaves. Good for him. Whatever. The typical long-haired tech and this other guy have sex. It's really awkward, slow-cell sex with Godawful piano-pr0n music in the background. All the stereotypes are there--sort of like animating somebody's straight-into-the-comment-box Livejournal yaoi drabble. Gasping and biting of knuckles and all that jazz. Wee-hoo.
Meanwhile, Yuuji's grandfather tells him he needs to take over his corporate dynasty, and Yuuji angsts over feeling like a fish in a trap, hence the title. So, the way he takes care of these feelings is to get his friends to help him to accost Matsui during a thunderstorm and rape him beneath him a gazebo. It's the same slow-cell, pr0n-piano, gasping-uke wilting-flower bullshit as the first sex scene, except even more stereotypical and less is going on. Matsui is left lying naked beneath the gazebo afterward. Kay.
Apparently this rape was some serious magical soul-affirming buttsecks, because Yuuji tells his friends, one of whom is a hothead voiced by Takehito Koyasu, he's "done" hanging out with them, and leaves. Takehito's character tries to beat him up. Meanwhile, outside, Long Haired Tech Boy admits his feelings to Yuuji, and when Yuuji does not respond in kind, LHTB screams at Yuuji never knew how to love anybody, and tries to attack him with a knife. LHTB's boyfriend stops him and punches Yuuji. I wish that was for the rape, but apparently it's for not knowing how to love, or some shit. Kay.
So, uh, fast-forward a bit, and Matsui and Yoshino are in high school. Matsui goes to join the swimming club to meet up with his rapist, and the very last scene of the entire show, as it freezes to colored-pencil still, is Yuuji walking toward Matsui, apparently feeling the same soul-changing love they both felt as Matsui was beaten and thrown to the ground and raped by Yuuji. End scene.
And I'm left staring at my computer screen, wondering if what I just thought happened did happen.
This is another example of bad yaoi cliches taken to an extreme. Granted, it's difficult to avoid when you come across a show/manga marketed on the sole virtue alone that holy shit, the main characters are gay for each other. I hate the "I don't know how to show love, so I'll rape you, but it will change me" storyline. Were Matsui a girl, that would never be tolerated as acceptable. Yuuji would be in prison, as he damn well deserves to be. I don't see why it should be any different just because he's a boy, as much the walking stereotype of an uke as he may be. That strikes me as extremely sexist. I don't see why in yaoi this is suddenly an acceptable way of dealing with one's emotions. It's not. It's rape. It's a hideous crime.
Hell, this doesn't even have the excuse of having a bad plot because it's porn. There really IS no porn. You see naked men hugging and hear the gasping and the cells jerk a little. It's lame. It's laughable.
While not quite as blatantly stupid and "What the fuck" inspiring as Bronze/Zetsuai 1989, this is pretty far up there on the scale of sheer idiocy. The artwork isn't so bad for a 90's title, and the art style is nostalgic, but beyond that, there are no redeeming qualities to this show. By the end of the show I don't care about any of the characters in the slightest, and can see them as nothing more than bad celluloid stereotypes. Matsui is wide-eyed, innocent, and eager to please, whereas Yuuji is tall, dark, brooding, silent, angsting, and totally out-of-touch with his feelings.
If you have half an hour to utterly blow, maybe this is worth it. Maybe. It's not nearly as lulz-worthy as some other titles out there. This is just stupid and rather insulting to the intelligence of the audience. read more
51 of 51 episodes seen
Whatever. That's neither here nor there.
I do not give out 10's lightly. I give out a lot of 9's, even 8's, but 10's are the shows that work their way under my skin, tug at my chest, and express so beautifully the things we already know deep down, but could not put to words, or consciously conceptualize. Fullmetal Alchemist is a singular show in that regard. It is a singularly imaginative, beautifully-written masterpiece on par with the greatest works of literature. Some of the political commentary feels a little heavy-handed, but then again, when does it not? The oppressive, violent military is not portrayed as a singular body of "AMERICA FUCK YEAH" heathens, but a diverse body of human beings with individual motives, value judgments, and sacrifices. The Ishbal people are not portrayed as selfless martyrs--usually, the oppressed people have to be perfect to garner any sympathy, but in this case, they are flawed humans as much as anybody else.
Ultimately, the show does not make any black-and-white assertions of right-and-wrong, truth-and-myth. Everything is still shades of gray when all is said and done. The only conclusion that can be made, as Al so beautifully states, is that there is no one law that governs the world--it's too complicated and flawed. Life is unfair and sacrifice does not guarantee gain. And yet, the power of determination is not undermined. It is not wholly pessimistic nor wholly optimistic. That would be too simple. That would be too clean. Life is not like that.
This is one of those shows I feel I can recommend to anybody. It is universal, it is powerful, and it is not dogmatic in a way that would turn off somebody who does not agree with that central dogma. It represents fundamentalist religious activists and atheist scientists with equal humanity and flaw. Ultimately, nobody is shown to be in possession of the one, and only, truth. read more
3 of 3 episodes seen
I cannot recommend this show highly enough. It is well-worth your hour and a half.
I found it amusing how much the US president looks like Dubbya, and how much of an absolute trigger-happy pussy he is. He wets his pants at least three times when things get tough, and at one point he flips out and instead of proceeding calmly through a tight spot, tries to pound the 'nuke them all' button. Political commentary much? You must recall this vintage 2001, a very familiar year in his political history. read more