Fan service to the detriment of quality

I tend to avoid anime with an over-emphasis on fan service, I construe it as a weakness in story telling; a cynical way of appealling to a base number of fan-boys/girls. In other words, I hate being pandered to- and so inevitably, I’ve ended up missing out on some of the most otaku series of recent years; the HiME franchise for one, and just about anything else starring groups of school girls falling over each other.
The latest champion on this side of fandom is said to be The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I try to check out a lot of what’s popular, if just to understand the hype, but a quick look at the various screen-caps scattered across the ‘net reveal that yet again, Haruhi is no doubt a fan favourite for certain physical reasons.
I know people get obsessed about these series, but has there ever been a great moe/loli series, or rather- is this shallow visual style a reflection of a distinct lack of story. Will fan-service always equal derrivative fanboy entertainment.

Pale Cocoon: Apathetic sci-fi short

Described in some parts as a spiritual follow-up to the much lauded sci-fi short Voices of a Distant Star, Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Pale Cocoon is another 22 minute OVA that attempts to express a wistful charm by means of an isolated space setting.
The story is that (for some undefined reason) mankind has migrated to the moon and after years of being seperated from the mother planet (Earth), people are yearning for a return home. The main character, a distant young man called Ura, spends his days examining pictures of Earth’s beautiful landscapes and researching old human civilisions.
As we now expect from these kinds of short features, Pale Cocoon looks great and is as apathetic as serious science fiction comes. Like say Texhnolyze, there is an air of resignation about the characters, almost as if they have quit caring about anything and everything.
Due the running time, the story is understandably hard to take in on first viewing but given time to consider, I feel like I understand the point of what Yasuhiro Yoshiura is trying to convey. In a world where people are drowning in artificial light, the enclosed metal walls give off a strong feeling of claustrophobia and the characters yearn for the freedom to explore and expand their horizons- a reaction to being isolated by technolgy. For them, I suppose life has lost meaning, they have no future.
Pale Cocoon was worth watching just for the spectactular artwork but unfortunately, it lacks the sympathetic human drama that transformed Voices of a Distant Star into such a fan’s favourite. The story is not incomprehensible but relies too much on sheer visual impact, and while I admire Pale Cocoon for it’s philosophical pondering and sentimental environmentalism, I can’t say this is an OVA I will revisit on a regular basis.

Studio 4C's Comedy – Medieval fable set in Ireland

Story so far
Set during Ireland’s War of Independence, a young Irish lass, besieged by the merciless English soldiers, seeks the help of a legendary swordsman who is rumoured to have supernatural powers.
My impressions
Studio 4C’s Comedy is a gripping 10 minute OAV from Kazuto Nakazawa; the main creative force behind Kill Bill’s ultra-violent anime sequence. This is a dark, gothic tale with no real historical significance, a vehicle for Nakazawa’s undoubted sense of style. His scratchy, sleek character designs are distinctive and attractive here, as is the hyper stylised violence. The compelling soundtrack is basically one song, but what a song; operatic classic Ave Maria.
It all adds up to be a really quite outstanding OAV, bleeding with moody landscapes and vivid characters no doubt inspired by an old European picture-book aesthetic. Comedy may only be 10 minutes long, but it works perfectly; both as a experiment in surreal atmospherics and an entertaining snapshot of Britain’s bloody history.

Kiba – 1 through 3 – Cliche shounen strikes again

Stating my desire for yet more shounen escapades, today I took in the first three episodes of Kiba.
Mediocre is the word that immediately comes to mind; neither bad nor outstanding, Kiba is a by the books fantasy adventure story packing just enough intrigue to maintain my interest from episode to episode. Disappointingly (especially considering the genre Kiba slots into) the monster-on-monster and light sabre-on-light sabre action is uninspired and lacking visual punch. The characters (including the cliche brooding lead, Zed) are mostly echoes of the established shounen stereotypes; important personalities include the humourless protagonist, gutsy female (potential love interest) and overly effeminate (probably gay) best friend.
You see I have this big list of complaints about Kiba, but I guess I have a weak spot for this kind of adventure story because despite all of these problems, I’m planning to continue watching- at least for another few episodes. The universe is well set up; a kind of edgy political\civilian rebellion appears to be brewing and Zed’s shrouded past is just that, shrouded and mysterious. The soundtrack is another big plus- the horrible music in Bleach pretty much killed whatever interest I had in that show, but Kiba sounds a lot more sophisticated and dramatic than it looks.
I guess you can call me a curious viewer for now, I see some promise in Kiba but it’s going to have to pull out some serious drama soon if I’m going to hang around for much longer. I was about this impressed with the first couple episodes of Full Metal Alchemist though, so there’s still some room here for Kiba improve.

Ergo Proxy – 5 – Revolution is in the air

We’ve had to sit through five episodes, but it’s only now starting to feel like Ergo Proxy is settling down into a proper flow of story-telling and I’m enjoying it a lot more; on a level beyond what previously amounted to a purely superficial attraction.
I suspect I preferred this episode to it’s predecessors because it’s basically set in the world outside of Romdeau. The character’s living in the wastelands are a lot more opinionated- and hence, interesting, and their indiscretions also add a neat sense of humour to an otherwise very serious narrative. Also, we are learning more about Proxy.
Inside Romdeau; Proxy is a villainous monster, but outside, he is the opposite; a fabled legend. Now I realize I’m jumping the gun on this next point, but I think it’s fair to assume that Vincent is indeed Proxy (who only emerges during times of great danger) and when the old man of the waste lands describes him as “Romdeau’s famous revolutionary”, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vincent eventually leading a civilian uprising against the oppressive government of Romdeau. I’m still unsure about Lil’s place in all of this, though I doubt she will be fighting for the government for much longer; she doesn’t strike me as a particularly happy bunny in Romdeau and since she is presumably breaking the law by going outside of the city walls to bring back Vincent, I wonder whether even her powerfully connected grandfather will want her back?
Upon analyzing Ergo Proxy- the political commentary is particularly relevant to the viewer’s current social climate, though it’s neither forced nor particularly obvious. Episode 5 is full of good, solid story telling and ends poised on a knife edge- the robots of Romdeau have attacked the peasants, coldly killing a young boy in the process and Lil (escorting Vincent back to the city) ended up being attacked too. I’m looking forward to seeing where it all goes next; how the homeless vagrants react to this episode’s slaughter, whether or not Lil defects to the “terrorists” and if Vincent is indeed Proxy.
And I must add, I’m really loving the rousing opening sequence.

Early impressions of Ergo Proxy

As a means of grasping the story of Ergo Proxy, I decided to hold off on watching the first four episodes and marathoned my way through them earlier today; in terms of understanding the plot, I can’t say this approach ended up benefiting me. Ergo Proxy has a very fractured narrative flow, there are no handy sections of explanitory dialogue to be found here, and when something happens, it’s usually unexpected and bemusing. Basically, each episode is as weird as the last.
With that said, I can see myself really enjoying this show. As a science fiction fan I can’t help but fall in love with the premise; years into the future, humanity has been split into two distinct sections- the “priviledged few” live peacefully in an enclosed city where everything about their lives is monitored and controlled by the government, while outside the city there is nothing but a desolate wasteland; some people try to live out there though, because sometimes freedom is more important than having clean toilets. It’s an idea that breeds conspiracy, revolution and ultimately, the importance of being free.
The setting is wonderfully realised with snatches of dark post-apocalyptic animation (emphasis on dark) and a quick glace at the screencaps below will reveal that the character designs are about as stylish as they come. The heroine of Ergo Proxy; Lil, is as she looks, a strong-willed and firey female lead akin to Ghost in the Shell’s Kusangai. The other focus of the story seems to be Vincent- the man who makes the unenviable trip from utopian paradise to disease ridden hell hole.
At such an early stage, I’m hesistant to say whether or not Ergo Proxy is a clear winner, because although I really enjoyed the harsh nature of these early episodes, I wonder whether or not I’m simply over awed by the show’s more superficial elements. While it’s being directed in a fresh way, there is no denying that the plot is cliche science fiction and I’m struggling to empathise with any of the characters, but in terms of moody atmosphere, gothic charm and muddy sci-fi visuals Ergo Proxy has some interesting things to say, and as long as the character development steps up a gear, I can see myself becoming a real fan.

Yokohama Shopping Trip – 2

Despite clearly being the better of the original two Yokohama Shopping Trip OVAs, episode two serves up an unsettling mood of desolation and loneliness. During a five minute period in which Alpha simply brews a cup of coffee, there is no music, no dialogue, only the sounds of a creeky old house to keep her (and indeed, us) company. During this remarkably extended scene, outside the whispy white clouds shuffle and day becomes night- truely, I couldn’t tell whether Alpha was brewing her coffee for days rather than minutes, and with the way she seems to space out, I suspect that neither does she. This is perhaps the first solid piece of social commentary I’ve managed to construe from Yokohama Shopping Trip; I wonder if this scene is trying to convey the repetition of life- how we can happily stick to the same routines day in, day out irregardless of the time we waste doing so.
Aside from this period, most of episode 2 deals with Alpha learning to understand and express human emotion. It ends with a suitably attractive scene of Alpha and a friend looking out over the flooded cities of our present day, interestingly- the street lights still work, so when night approaches, the still rivers literally shine with a million neon lights. It’s a profound moment, subtely portraying the insignificant beauty of human life.

Yokohama Shopping Trip – 1

My fascination with the weird, coupled with an obtuse interest in searching out the obscure has led me down the path of downloading the kind of anime people forgot about many moons ago- and so here I am to introduce you to Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou; talked up a wandering traveller anime in the spirit of say Kino no Tabi (Kino’s Journey), I must admit this sounded right up my ally.
Straight from the off, it’s clear that Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou has some interesting ideas to convey. I had been made aware that it’s a show with some strong yuri overtones and consdiering the way the lead characters commincate “messages” to each other, such themes have all the sublety of a sledgehammer.
To set the scene, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is based in a post-apocalyptic but decidely rural future- the vast open landscape is lush with grass, trees and bushes. The old human cities are under water, rusted away, dead. Population is sparse and cute looking robots are everywhere- they could be human except for a few eccentric features; to communicate private messages with one another, the cute robots must kiss; how the programmers got away with that feature…, I suppose I’m not supposed to ask.
By now I’m sure I’m making Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou sound like a seedy case of yuri exploitation but based on this first episode, such comments are merely knee-jerk reaction. The anime is essentially about a female robot called Alpha who one day gets a camera and decides wander about, discover the profound and snap the beautiful. A lot of time is spent silently gazing at blood red sunsets, free flying birds and meeting new friends. It’s very atmospheric and laid back, but rather than attempting to drive into us a code of morals, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is content to allow the viewer to follow Alpha on her aimless trips, looking for something worth capturing in her camera. I feel interested enough to want to watch more of this, though clearly the lack of story and drama mean that it is best suited loose end on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Mushishi – 20

Looking back on Mushishi, I suspect that this episode (episode 20) will rank as one of my favourites. Every episode has had that unique air of mystisism; a beautiful sense of magic that I have come to love, but still, rarely have a felt so attached to the characters as I did in this episode.
It begins with Ginko paying a visit to an old friend called Tanyu; this young woman (who I guess is around the same age as Ginko) suffers from a curse brought down on her family by a particularly strong, and frankly evil sounding mushi. The curse means that from birth, her right leg is paralyzed and covered with a pitch black birthmark, and the only way she can lift the curse is by listening to and then writing down the tales of the various Mushishi that pass through her part of the world. By means of flashback, we discover this is how Tanyu first meets Ginko.
Despite being one of the slower episodes, the unsettling world of Mushishi is presented here in a striking and magical way; mirroring the first episode, here written words literally jump off pages and fly about rooms- essentially, we are overcome by the simple notion of taking something we all assume is a static, never changing medium and injecting it with life.
Stunning aethetics aside, I loved this episode because of the underplayed friendship between Ginko and Tanyu- and indeed, Tanyu herself. Far from getting down about her disability, she is a notably strong willed and good natured person who’s boundless optimism bounces off of Ginko’s sarcastic wit like sunshine. The way they interact and talk to each other shows us they have an undoubtedly warm friendship (and forgive me for getting ahead of myself here- potential romance) and rather than let themselves be overcome with sadness, the characters here are full of life and a joy to watch.
A lot of Mushishi is about conveying a moral, or an idea concerning as vast a subject as spirituality, but episode 20 deals not with such an overbearing sense of responsibly as the simple friendship between two friends. It was a great episode.

Mushishi – 19

Despite displaying none of the euphoric highs and gut wrenching lows of previous episodes, Mushishi 19 was an uplifting way to while away 23 minutes. The concept here is really quite profound- consider that without someone to love you, you disappear. Fuki, the lead character of this story, gets “infected” by a Mushi that will slowly but surely fade her into nothingness- romantically, she can only recover her physical self if she truely wants to remain human.
Amidst much soul searching, Fuki thankfully has a happy ending, though it’s here that Mushishi makes some interesting spiritual commentary; symbolically it is remarked that whether you see a person or not, your love will always keep them close; that although the body may die, such strong emotion will never fade. Of course in the romantic and magical world of Mushishi, love has the power resurrect- but how should we, the viewers, interpret this theme? I suppose we all have our own definitions of faith, understandings of what many call the “human soul” but no matter how I look at this episode, it still reenforces the nice, warm and fuzzy sentiment that emotion can transcend the physical plain.
I’m sorry if I’ve gone overly philosophical in the above paragraph, I’m not a particularly religious or spiritual person (consider me neutral for now, cop-out, I know), I just admire the way Mushishi gets these kinds of theological thoughts twisting through my mind.