Anime is dead

Promo art of the character from The Five KillersIf you haven’t seen it already, stream this short trailer for the upcoming “anime” The Five Killers and prepare to be gob-smacked. First, lets just say this looks absolutely fantastic, however, a little digging will reveal that, much like last year’s (in)famous Afro Samurai, it’s being bank rolled, first and foremost, for the North American market. So, despite being directed by Tomohiro Hirata (of Trinity Blood fame) and featuring authentic Japanese character designs by the upcoming talent Shigeki Maeshima, the script is actually being penned by George Krstic (Megas XLR, Star Wars Clone Wars) and comic book writer Mark Waid.
Ultimately, this poses an interesting question – in this age of truly global collaboration, how can we define anime? Consider the strictest application of the word, the one we all presume to use – put simply, anime is animation produced in Japan. This rule, though water-tight in theory, hardly stands up when you consider much of the low-level animation is farmed out to cheap foreign neighbors (like Korea). I know that a lot of Naruto isn’t animated in Japan, but I still think of it as anime, but why?
Naruto is written by Masashi Kishimoto and he’s Japanese, so as long as the story was conceived in Japan, we can safely say it’s anime… Actually, no, Gankutsuou (Alexandre Dumas) and Romeo X Juliet (William Shakespeare) were written by famous European play rights. Now I’m confused; magically qualifying as anime has nothing to do with the physical location of animation or the nationality of the original story writers. So, truly, what the hell is anime?
Of course, being anime has nothing to do with a cliche art-style either. Experimental animation houses like Studio 4°C rarely prescribe to the typical “bug eyes, no nose” aesthetic but regardless, their work is regularly described as anime anyway. This brings me on to the final nail in the coffin, Studio 4°C’s most recent theatrical movie, Tekkon Kinkreet, was directed by Michael Arias, an American.
The conclusion is obvious. Anime is dead; or at least, what it used to mean to fans (even 10 years ago) is dead. We need a new word.


Elitism on another level: pie-facing movie directors because they aren't "worthy"?

I’ve just read this story at ANN and it really bothered me. Lately we’ve had all this talk about elitism in the anime community, but this one guy is on another level; for those who can’t be arsed to click the link, I’m talking about “Khyron Prime”; some one who, upon deciding that he hated the new Robotech movie (Shadow Cronicles), dragged himself up to the Anime Expo and threw a cream pie in the face of the movie’s director (Tommy Yune). Yune took it all in good humor and even posed for a few impromptu pictures but the obsessed fan was later slapped with a (deserved) life-long ban by the Expo committee. It gets worse when you read “Khyron Prime”‘s venom-filled blog entries that detail his adventures at the Expo; it’s fair to say he reads like Travis Bickle’s Robotech-lovin’ younger brother, a real case of social alienation.
We throw around words like elitism quite freely, but this guy is the real deal. Why do (some) anime fans feel like they are entitled to great anime, to the point where they feel personally slighted by something they don’t like?


Lelouch and Light: the era of yuppies with broken dreams

Art imitating life, I’m sure you’ve heard that one before; the idea that the thoughts and fears of our generation are somehow reflected in the art (and therefore, entertainment) that we create. Life now, at least in developed countries like Japan, North America and the UK, is a lot calmer than it was 50 to 60 years ago; basically, you aren’t waking up in the morning and expecting a nuclear apocalypse in the face, yet still, there is an shiver of social unrest.
Two of the most popular anime characters from 06/07 are Lelouch Lamperouge (Code Geass) and Yagami Light (Death Note); both are terrorists – charismatic, dashing vigilantes hell bent on suicidal missions to rebuild civilization according to their own designs; they have no qualms about murdering their way to the top; they are guys who, despite living comfortable lives, decide to take on the “all powerful” government for the sake of an ideal, or remarkably, out of boredom.
The importance of these dark social creations reflects a growing dissatisfaction felt by many people in Japan who have spent large periods of their lives reaching for the sky. When the dream inevitably crumbles and the daily grind sets in, so emerges world changing, embittered characters like Lelouch and Light. They truly are children of the 21st century; yuppies with broken dreams, ready to risk it all to make a difference.
Of course, that’s not all – right now, the majority of first world countries, without a world war to distract themselves, have hit a slump of inward-set paranoia. Basically, no-one trusts their governments anymore. Japan is no different; consider that the heroes of One Piece are law-breaking pirates while the enemies are the bumbling World Government. Claymore is another mainstream Shonen Jump anime in which the mysterious “organization” betrays its own children, while the ruling State Alchemists in Fullmetal Alchemist are riddled with corrupt, shape shifting homunculi. They all resonate with an audience because they feel relevant, important.
What is clear is that we’re just now beginning a new era. After the financial boom-time of the 80s and the electronic revolution of the 90s and early 00s, these are gray and direction less years, saturated by media hype and flooded with pop culture. The underground dissatisfaction is just about ready to boil over; it’s already happening in Gurren Lagann!


A few of the manliest death scenes EVER

Fair Warning: This article contains spoilers for Gurren Lagann, Fist of the North Star, Transformers: The Animated Movie and One Piece (Drum Island).
In light of Kamina’s abrupt demise, I can’t help but ponder how his influential example would fair in a list of the manliest death scenes EVER!
So what makes an every day murder-death-kill manly? Essentially, you must have the constitution to look the Grim Reaper bang in the eyes (of course, that’s assuming the Grim Reaper has eyes) and laugh; you do this despite having been impaled by arrows or stabbed by something sharp and pointy. Of course, your death must be a glorious moment of self-sacrifice too, with bonus points for heavy handed (crucifixion) religious symbolism.
If we’re talking MANLY, I would be condemned to Hell (featuring Shinji Ikari) for not mentioning the many compassionate hearts that shine in Fist of the North Star, and though each of them twinkle with pride and brute strength, no one has more honour than the mullet-king himself, Shu. Here are some facts:

  • In life: Rather than follow brutal tournament rules and murder his brave opponent after victory is achieved, Shu goes ahead and rips out his own eyes instead, forever condemning himself to giant facial scars, and oh yeah, blindness too! What a sacrifice.
  • In death: Having been easily defeated by the maniacal villain Souther, the heavily wounded blind man is forced to drag a giant rock to the very top of a newly built pyramid. Shu completes his journey (to the after life) when he receives several arrows to the chest and eventually, a spear to the heart. However, in his final moments, god has mercy and he is granted one last wish, to be allowed to look upon the heroic face of Kenshiro one more; yes, he was the opponent Shu saved all those years ago. The circle is complete.

Often the most memorable deaths are delivered at the most unexpected moments. Transformers: The Animated Movie taught me a lot about life, like how to use curse words, but most of all; mine young self learnt that even the greatest of heroes can die.
Of course, I’m leading up to the demise of Optimum Prime; an indestructible icon to kids growing up in the 1980s, Prime and Megatron ended up killing each other in a take-no-prisoners fist fight to the death – Prime finishing the battle with his trademark two-handed uppercut only to later die from gun-shot wounds, but not without regaling his brave robotic comrades with one last emotional speech.
Try to imagine growing up believing in the power of good over evil, trusting in the knowledge that a good heart will always win, only to feel those beliefs crash down to reality as you look upon the lifeless corpse you once described as a hero. On that day I ceased being a boy and became a MAN.
"When does a man die? When he is hit by a bullet? No. When he suffers a disease? No. When he ate a soup made out of a poisonous mushroom? No. A man dies when he is forgotten!
For all their glory, the impact of the above fatalities are lessened by their overall presentation; what I’m trying to say is, Fist of the North Star and Transformers aren’t exactly good, in fact, they are pretty bad. Sorry fan boys, it’s the truth.
The above rhetoric is quoted courtesy of the tragic Dr. Hiluruk, a character who lit up (quite literally, since he exploded himself!) One Piece for a short time during Chopper’s heart-breaking Drum Island arc. The thing about Dr. Hiluruk’s manly end is that it tremendously affected me; the Ave Maria song playing in the background, his romantic and philosophical dialogue, his good nature and most of all, what he meant to little Chopper. Hiluruk’s death was the ultimate; he died smiling, sacrificing himself for another and inspiring countless others to rebel against Drum Island’s fat slob of a King.
Only time will tell whether Kamina’s concluding chapter will live on in the hearts of otaku. I was tempted to include more in this list; the likes of Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist and Last Exile contain their fair share of smiling tears, but I was looking for that rare epic quality in which one man’s demise inspires the ultimate victory of good over evil!
(Also, I feel bad for not seeing enough giant robot / mecha anime (recommendations of manly anime are welcome!))


Past, present and future

To quote rubbish rockers Staind, it’s been a while. Of course I haven’t stopped watching anime, I just don’t have much to say. I could write boring episode reviews, but you know, that’s boring! More than anything I seem to rely on inspiration to write and the feeling now is that I’m either burnt out or just couldn’t care less.
Death Note was great, but it’s fast becoming a weak parody of itself; Light and L locked together – it’s like some stupid sitcom. Code Geass is superficially exciting and features some colourful animation, but it’s mostly just absurd, camp trash; a retooled Gundam for the motaku generation.
Red Garden is one of the few shining lights to emerge from the horrendous winter season. A novelty for TV anime these days; it has a story to tell, it has female characters with integrity and it doesn’t look like it was animated for pedophiles. Score!
Eyes then turn to the spring ’07 season and hope springs anew. I better not be the only one looking forward to Bokurano; imagine an alternate version of Evangelion where Shinji and his giant robot accidentally squish Father Ikari (and his car) underfoot, while Asuka’s a child prostitute and after every victorious mecha mash up, the pilot curls up and dies. As long as the production values are up to scratch (we’re depending on GONZO here, so it’s a flip of a coin really), Bokurano will stun, surprise and shock anime fans not prepared for such cold, hard brutality.
It’s nice to see a couple more TV shows from Studio BONES are gearing up for launch too. I do enjoy dark science fiction and as far as I can see, Studio BONES are up there with the best. “Darker than Black” (with a Yoko Kanno soundtrack!) and “The Skull Man” may sound corny, but coming from the brilliant animation house behind the likes of Wolf’s Rain and Kurau Phantom Memory, expectations are sky high.

Editorials Music

Standing on the brink of a new era, looking back at Naruto

Standing on the brink of a new era for Naruto, I’ve turned back the clock to look at my favourite moments from the series; fair warning – hyperbolic fanboyisms ahead. I started watching the show in 2003 with a cheap 15″ CRT monitor and two tinny sound blasters, at the time I wasn’t interested in anime and hated bloody subtitles. 4 years on and I find myself hooked up with a 24″ LCD flat-screen, 6.1 Dolby Surround Sound system and I’m writing on my own anime blog. What the hell happened?! Honestly, I blame Naruto.


He's a man of rubber with an afro

Luffy’s ultimate technique? Certainly, he’s wearing an afro!


Japan’s increasingly superficial pop culture?

Superflat is a new phrase I have discovered today. It sounds like an obscure 60s rock band but is actually a growing artistic movement subverting, rejecting and critiquing Japan’s increasingly superficial pop culture; often by lampooning it with artwork that features the cute, smiling face of a young anime character surrounded by or oblivious to a grotesque or hard hitting monstrosity.

Of the paintings I’ve seen online, the best of “superflat” is both funny and provocative; an important parody of (particularly) the moe aesthetic that current dominates Japan’s (and increasingly, the world’s) otaku and does well to highlight the hollow soul at it’s centre – in particular, the way fawning otaku can escape or gloss over an often disgusting or unsettling reality simply because a certain character looks cute. The old fashioned style of narrative story telling is dying, apparently the character (designs) are all that matter.

It’s interesting to consider works by the likes of Studio 4°C, Hideaki “Evangelion” Anno and Satoshi “Perfect Blue” Kon are often regarded as “superflat” simply because they have created anime that snub, rather than pander to, the ever demanding otaku crowd. Generally “superflat” is just another way of saying “original”, but today it’s becoming ever more important to make a distinction between the mass-produced barrels of fan service and genuine artistic endeavour.

Recommended articles on Superflat
Superflat on Wikipedia
Superflat by Artnet


Global culture infects the generations (with hip-hop)

Later today I’ll get to watch some raw anime — episode one of Afro Samurai. And this time the Japanese can fansub it. A perverse notion if ever I’ve heard one, but quite clearly Western culture is directly infiltrating (a nicer way of putting it would be influencing) Japan’s anime industry, inevitably resulting in an odd fusion of cultural trends — the very name “Afro Samurai” is an obvious reference to this colourful clash of styles between traditional East and contemporary West.
Our natural reaction is fear, "please don’t change our anime" — but then the archetypal genre formulas are becoming tiresome. Once you’ve been around for a few years and seen Evangelion, Naruto and Azumanga Daioh, you’ve basically seen it all. Of course there are a few exceptions to this rule, but the fact is that the majority of anime is just recycling the same old ideas over and over again.
This cross-pollination of traditions and culture then, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing after all. The very idea of an afro’ed samurai is absurd to the point of insulting in a traditional sense, but it’s still refreshing and original none the less. It sounds fun, which is a lot more than I can say for Kanon. No, a remake of Kanon. Cowboy Bebop, Trigun and Samurai Champloo all take their cues North America, fuse the complex characterisation, stylish animation and moving drama of Japanese anime with North America’s pop culture to great and lasting effect.
It goes the other way too, but with not quite the same outstanding results. Cartoon Network is brimming with new productions that borrow the cliche visual style of anime but alas fail to capture the blatant essence of it; simply cartoons that don’t condescend, that don’t feature faultless personalities and aren’t boring moralistic treacle. I doubt it will stay this way for long — the spread of fansubs, the expansion of anime into households, it can only be a good thing. Kids in their ever increasing numbers will grow up with anime, be inspired by it (like we all are now) and become the next self-made Makoto Shinkai. Audience and range of influence is no longer limited by physical plain or birth origin, everything is right here on the internet. A global culture is fast approaching.

Editorials Reviews

Observations of Everything: Bye-Bye November

Still hopelessly hooked on…
Black Lagoon (2nd Barrage)
Episode 19 and counting
The bog-standard Naruto fillers would be a lot more interesting if they managed to nab the creative bastards working on Black Lagoon. With that said the 2nd season has often flattered to deceive and appears to be more content to up the ante in terms of fire-power and “phat explosions” than provide any real character development. The end result is a darkly fun but superficial couple of action-packed story arcs. And something needs to be done about the painful Engrish – sorry Balalaika; you can’t be a bad-ass and talk like an idiot.
Code Geass
Episode 7 and counting
It feels wrong writing this but for what it’s worth I’m thoroughly enjoying Code Geass. I’m a sucker for colourful animation and this, mad haircuts and Victorian costumes abound, is so hideously over the top, melodramatic and knowingly fun that it’s become a ridiculous parody of everything that’s cliche within anime, from cloak wearing mecha to ditzy college days romance.
Death Note
Episode 9 and counting
Death Note isn’t an especially clever show but the suspenseful battle of wits and jaw-dropping brinkmanship between an increasingly unhinged Light and the quirky L has had me edging off my seat from the very first episode. I’m totally addicted to this show, and episode 8 contains the most dramatic opening of a packet of crisps e-v-e-r. What with all the Pizza Hut pimping in Code Geass, surely Walkers could have stumped up for some Shinigami flavoured chips?
One Piece
Episode 172 and counting
Well into the Skypiea arc now, but following on from the grandiose adventures of Alabasta, I must admit I’m finding it (“Save the country!”) all fairly predictable, same old music and same brand of narcissistic super villains’ ala Crocodile. Still though you can’t beat the smiling enthusiasm of Luffy and if I’m looking for something purely entertaining to stick on, One Piece has it all. That and Wiper is hella cool.
Welcome to the N.H.K
Episode 21 and counting
No Yamazaki, don’t gooooo! After the lull of the unengaging MMORPG arc, the last two episodes have shown Welcome to the N.H.K is back to its melancholy and border-line suicidal best. Yamazaki’s sad departure and Satou’s subsequently lonely realisation that he’s just lost his best mate rivalled Honey & Clover in its atmospheric reflection on the vital importance friendship. I can’t believe the end is so close now.
Stuck in backlog hell is…

  • 009-1 – Old school sci-fi anime revamped and I’ve read a lot of praise for this show.
  • Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto – Traditional Japanese dialogue is extremely confusing
  • Bartender – Sounds massively boring but because of that, I’m desperate to give it a shot!
  • Red Garden – Stop crying god dammit! No, don’t sing about it either!
  • Tokyo Tribe 2 – The animation looks odd and creativity deserves attention. Also going in its favour is that it isn’t harem.