Another step Toward the Terra, circa 1980; old or not, it's still great


Although I like to recommend older anime, sometimes even I can find it hard to sit through something that was created in decades past. My problem isn’t necessarily anything to do with the old fashioned animation or digging the vintage aesthetic, rather I have issues with the story telling; while modern anime flows and climaxes with a clearly calculated (and looking at the “moe” genre, I should say cynical) vision, much from the “classic” era of anime (running from the 1970s until the mid/late 1980s) seems prone to eccentric (almost goofy) characterisation and a choppy sense of direction (I’ve been burnt by watching too much Yoshiyuki Tomino anime). Basically, old anime clearly feels different, foreign and slower, and compared with the break-neck pace of today’s offerings, it can be hard to acclimatise, but, and I want to make this clear, it’s worth making all the effort you can muster to watch the 1980 movie version of Toward the Terra (a.k.a Terra e), especially if you loved the 2007 TV series; indeed, it’s just as good.
If you can remember my original review of Toward the Terra, I lamented it’s somewhat cliche opening few episodes. Our hero Jomy discovers that he’s a part of the psychic Mu tribe and retreats into obligatory phases of angst and denial. This was probably the most boring and over-wrought section of the TV series, but the movie really captures the chilling reality of living within such a strict society; a place where daring to question the rules is met with only one answer, execution. When Jomy is forced to leave his mother behind, knowing full well all his beloved memories are to be erased, it feels genuinely wrong, unnatural and ultimately, painful. His liberation is a relief.


The other major difference between the TV series and the movie is a delicate romance between Jomy and Karina, which ultimately conceives the precocious nipper Tony; the first natural-born human for decades. This thread includes the particularly lovable scene of a nervous Jomy strutting back and forth in a hospital waiting-room while Karina is in labour. For some reason, and no doubt, to the delight of the shonen-ai fans, they never hooked up in the TV series, but Tony ended up regarding Jomy as his “grand-father” anyway.


Of course, since the movie runs a little less than 2hrs, which is a paltry sum compared to the nigh-on 10hrs worth of TV episodes, there are a number of secondary characters who either lose a lot of their importance or simply don’t appear at all. Soldier Blue, Matsuka and especially Shiroei show up for little more than confusing cameo roles before being cast aside, while Swena is no where to be found at all. Thankfully, Keith was as interesting as I remembered him; a callous monster willing to commit mass-genocide while his lonely soul gradually discovers empathy in the Mu’s struggle for peace.


The end of both versions is very similar, though if just for clarity’s sake, I prefer the epilogue of the film which better explains the purpose of the Mu. They are created and allowed to live, despite ostensibly being hunted, because potentially, they represent the next stage in man’s evolution. Butchering the Mu at birth could be seen as akin to forsaking humanity’s future and condemning the next generation to weakness; forever mollycoddled by the all-powerful computer system that’s simply maintaining the status quo. That the Mu survives given a slim chance, and begins to thrive in the face of such odds suggests, as Darwin’s Law would have it, that they are the future.


There is so much more to say about the story, but I’ll leave it at that until I get around to reading Keiko Takemiya’s award-winning original manga too. Along with several others, she pioneered shojo manga and it amazes me to think she started writing this in 1977 (and finished in 1980); it’s so old and yet, I love it; completely and utterly. Be it 1980 or 2008, To Terra…. is just a wonderful story, a timeless one, even, that I can always watch or read and be completely lost in imagination.


Please embrace the brilliance of Toward the Terra

1949q.jpgA lot of great anime premiered in the 2007 spring season. In fact, there is too much to mention, and for that reason, I suppose many people overlooked Toward the Terra. I struggled through the first four or five episodes and was feeling pretty apathetic about it myself.
The truth is that it begins with a very cliche first five episodes — basically, our hero Jomy, the blonde pretty boy with psychic powers, inadvertently uncovers this gigantic government conspiracy and after barely escaping with his life, joins the rebel forces in escaping the genocidal forces of mankind. It’s fairly standard science fiction stuff, especially in this post-Matrix era, and it seems worse because it’s directed in such a melodramatic fashion.
Everything changes when we meet Keith Anyan, an artificial human groomed by "mother" (the all controlling computer system) to be the perfect soldier. Keith is the primary villain of the show, but when we first meet him, he is but a promising young man training for an "elite" career in the military. There is little or no hint of the demon that as of episode 17, willingly unleashes the "flames of hell" by firing the Megido, a gigantic, planet destroying weapon worthy of Gunbuster.
I’m writing all this because I’m falling for Toward the Terra. It makes exciting use of a fascinating narrative structure that, over the last 17 installments, has made several decade-long time leaps; we’ve seen confused teenagers growing into charismatic leaders as an entire race of people (the Mu — Jomy’s race of psychic humans) immigrate across space and settle on an uninhabited planet, only to be blasted off when the humans hunt them down. There are no fillers or "padding" episodes, every scene is dense with plot, moving the narrative ever onwards. As it turns out, Towards the Terra has a lot to say.
This is a series that doesn’t much care for human nature and our fear of the unknown. Understandably, the Mu just want to live in peace, but typically, us humans aren’t having it. This is underpinned with a healthy mistrust of technology — as pointed out above, modern man is controlled for his own good by "mother"; an evil computer system apparently inflicted with the same fears, discrimination and concerns as ourselves.
Jomy and Keith are two sides of the same coin; Jomy’s an ardent pacifist with his heart set on peace, only using his immense powers to protect, while Keith is the perfect soldier; he follows every order, no matter how morally redundant; he is programmed to hate – he is a monster. On an individual basis, the Mu is so much stronger than the average human, yet they are good-willed people, and therefore, pushovers. However, that’s all about to change as in one of the most interesting developments yet, the latest generation of Mu children born on the destroyed planet of Nasca have inherited that "will of the flame" and like their human enemies, are strong-willed, aggressive and powerful. The message? Hate begets hate. Basically, the bully is about to get pay-back; sucks to be human!
untitled-1.jpgIt’s an interesting twist of ideologies. Jomy will have to try and reign in on the growing aggression within the Mu and teach them that an eye for an eye will do nothing but perpetuate the violence, while Keith, sooner or later, will be forced to question his orders and recognise the value of every life, human or otherwise.
With all this in mind, I have to admit that I’m disappointed by the small number of people watching Toward the Terra. No doubt, many will be turned off by the straight laced, conservative characterisation; there is little to no humour, crude fan-service or eccentricities; it’s very serious. Similarly, the retro-1980s aesthetic is rarely popular these days. All of this, coupled with the generic opening episodes, appear to have resulted in a relatively small audience and honestly, it’s a great shame – the thought provoking and fascinating Toward the Terra deserves better.


Black Blood Brothers – 1 – Elegantly swift bishounen attacks!

I was quite determined to find fault with Black Blood Brothers – I took my fair share of melodramatic bishounen-horror in Night Head Genesis and eventually rejected it, so I feared more of the same from this show. Typically I was wrong. While it won’t win many end-of-season plaudits for originality, Black Blood Brothers at least matches it’s growling characters vocal angst with scene after scene of elegantly swift action set against an all too neon post-apocalyptic, city destroying back drop. This first episode is mostly shoujo eye candy, but it still moves fast enough and contains enough humour to at least retain my attention for a solid 22 minutes of fun action.
The lead character is a long haired and handsome “old blood” vampire called Jirou Mochizuki. Jirou is haunted by ghostly mirages of his now-dead girlfriend and appears to be travelling the world with his fun loving, blonde younger brother who notably cameos in this episode with a lovable innocent sense of humour. Jirou is the kind of character who gets away with wearing a floppy red top-hat, carries a big shiny sword and attacks groups of vampires with his body outlined by the glowing night moon. He is an elegant yet tortured soul and no doubt the main theme running through out Black Blood Brothers will concern him slaying anyone in his way, all the while coming to terms with past and present relationship troubles.
This first episode was easy to watch because the characters have emotionally layered and multi-faceted personalities. Importantly, Black Blood Brothers never takes itself too seriously. As a horor buff, the bullet dodging vampire attacks ain’t half bad either!


Sci-Fi Harry – Does exactly what it says on the tin

Uneducated and ignorant, my first taste of this most leafy of seasons is the earnestly dubbed “Sci-Fi Harry”. I knew absolutely nothing of this show before today and the only reason I figured I’d give it a try is because of the wonderfully unprentious name. It is literally what it says on the tin – a science fiction anime with a main character called Harry. Mirroring this complete lack of hype, there is nothing outright exciting or colourful about this show, between its typically bullied protagonist and a depressed colour scheme, this is an intentionally serious and down to earth stab at high school psychic horror.
I could describe Harry as frustrating and unpleasant – after all, he is a beaten, bullied and weak teenager and we take no pleasure in his treatment at the hands of his yobbish school mates. At the same time, he is an under dog worth supporting and provided he doesn’t collapse in a pool of [his own] piss, his development as a brave hero will rouse my heart.
Perhaps the best – or at least the most striking element of Sci-Fi Harry is its artistic approach. The surreal and completely unsettling opening theme aside (it truly is an abstract sight to behold), I was impressed by the angular facial features – the eyes are particularly detailed, beaming and jerking from side to side, and it’s been a while since I saw an anime character with a proper nose. No doubt imagining a view of life from the perspective of a jaded kid, Sci-Fi Harry evokes a lifeless and drab atmosphere just waiting to explode, and for this reason it won’t be for the excitable harem otaku.
Ultimately it’s hard to know which way this 20 episode series will eventually head – given the original manga series was scribed by the same author of Night Head Genesis, I’m half expecting an influx of gay bishounen, yet I can’t deny that this first episode of Sci-Fi Harry is striking and interesting, hardly chilling but edgy and moody, wollowing in dank modern suburbia with a curiously ambiguous and confused lead character.


Night Head Genesis – Psychic bishounen, brotherly love

Psychic bishounen, brotherly love – Night Head Genesis is quite clearly aimed at the yaoi fan girls, yet an over abundance of melodrama and an almost laughably over the top collection of villains fails to render this completely unwatchable. It’s trashy, homo-erotic and somewhat dull, but for now I do intend to watch more of Night Head Genesis. At 24 episodes in length, something genuinely interesting must be set to happen, right?
There are a few things I quite enjoy about this. I complained above about the larger than life — often insane — bad guys, but it’s still quite fun seeing them kick ass and hop around acting totally evil (like being crazy enough to abduct and murder any girl wearing purple clothes) only to get their comeuppance in gruesome or disturbing ways. That’s right; I’m in it for the violence! Night Head Genesis sets a dark (sometimes extremely moody) tone and it can be impressively harsh – seeing these psysic powers used to cause damage is very enthralling and brings back better memories of Tetsuo going ape shit in AKIRA.
Unfortunately the two brothers and their whole melodramatic history (being abandoned by their parents and forced to live their younger years stuck in a special hospital for the mentally "enhanced) fails to illicit any kind of empathy from me — there is no subtlety to their characters; they lack personality and humour, share no rapore with one another (or anyone else for that matter). What does interest me about them is their purpose in the story — why are they important? I have many questions and to get answers I’m happy to sit through another couple of episodes before deciding whether or not Night Head Genesis is limited to merely offering trashy eye candy for the fan girls.


First look at: Legend of the Galactic Heroes

In a universe far, far away from Earth, an intergalactic war between two political systems has enveloped its peoples for centuries. The Free Planets Alliance (democratic) and the Galactic Empire (imperial) regularly clash in battles that claim millions of victims.
Leading the Galactic Empire ever onwards is Reinhard von Lohengramm, a relatively young admiral (20 years old) who has the brilliance and charisma of an experience war veteran. His only equal is the Free Planets Alliance’s Yang Wen-li, a talented tactician who is building a fearsome reputation as an unstoppable leader of men. On their young shoulders will rest the hopes and dreams of mankind.
Having been at a loss as to what to blog lately, I decided to dive into the murky depths of the AnimeSuki fansub archive. There is so much airing these days that it’s easy to overlook the older anime and 1988’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes is exactly that; numbering 110 episodes (it ended in 1997), this is an underrated space opera reminiscent of the earlier Mobile Suit Gundam TV series (minus the mecha).
As you would expect from a series called Legend of the Galactic Heroes, this is an impossibly epic story that covers mind boggling space and time. The two lead characters are admirable and involving, especially Reinhard von Lohengramm, who embodies such a classical ambition for power. The battles and overriding war theme will satisfy hardened military fans who enjoy an attention to detail and tactics- the first two episodes are almost entirely devoted to one gigantic battle; both a shocking melee of space combat and a tense tactical clash between Reinhard and Yang Wen-li. Just like MS Gundam, both sides have their own unique uniforms and power structures.
The animation despite beginning in 1988 isn’t bad at all. I really love the slender Victorian-esque character designs; there is a poetic rhythm to their cat-like movement and graceful expression.
Based on the first four episodes, I’m already hooked in by Legend of the Galactic Heroes. While it’s strong emphasis on political and military manoeuvring won’t be for everyone, this is a good old fashioned space opera set against the compelling lives of two star gazing, ambitious heroes.


Jyu-Oh-Sei – 10 to 11 – Die, Die My Darling

By becoming the Jyu-Oh, Thor transcends the planet of Chimera in search of the bloody truth hidden beneath the bodies of his murdered parents; after years of waiting, he gets his answers, though it’s not the happy ending he had wished for, and with the thin veil of reality now utterly torn from his shattered grasp, he faces a hopeful future without heritage, without family.
I’m not sure what I expected from the finale of Jyu-Oh-Sei, but given the way this show has slowly fallen from grace, I suppose I was expecting to be under whelmed. That didn’t happen. Unlike other anime, Jyu-Oh-Sei is evidently unafraid of killing off its beloved cast of pretty men and sexy women; indeed, even I was shocked to see Third put a gun to his head and splatter suicide over a bunch of toothy plants.
The last episode was especially exciting and even shocking; as if Tiz romantically dying (for Zagi of all people!) wasn’t enough to throw me out of my comfort zone; I was just as shocked to see that Earth had been destroyed years previous by a giant asteroid. There are some nice concepts hidden within the bevy of bishounen fan-service, not least of all the idea of a planet defending itself against disaster.
As is the case with the rest of Jyu-Oh-Sei, the final curtain suffers from a pure and simple lack of characterization. Although I enjoyed this series, I couldn’t care less about Tiz or Third, and when they inevitably meet the grim reaper, my ambivalence was merely dulled by the fantastic animation; only now do I realize that honestly, I doubt I’ll watch Jyu-Oh-Sei again.
This was a series with such great potential, but its fractured time jumps and quick-fire melodramatic adventures appear to have robbed Jyu-Oh-Sei of any true compassion and impact. Rabid fan-girls should lap this up, but given the complexity of Chimera and the superlative animation from BONES, I can only mark down Jyu-Oh-Sei as superficial eye candy and ultimately, a missed opportunity.


Jyu-Oh-Sei – 7 to 9 – Blinded from the truth

It’s taken a while, but I’m finally starting to twig that Jyu-Oh-Sei has an absolutely stellar voice cast. Young Thor was played by Minami Takayama, whose best work comes in the form of the insane, eccentric Dilandau of Escaflowne. Thor’s love interest Karin is handled by none other than Romi Paku- in other words, the show stealing voice of Edward Elric from Full Metal Alchemist, and even the heartless Zagi is brought to life by a household name; Kazuya Nakai- the brooding, strong presence behind the likes of Roronoa Zoro (One Piece) and Karasu (Noein). It’s the kind of ensemble cast stitched together only by the deep pockets of Hollywood, so for once, it’s nice to see an anime series with such a well matched, proven acting pedigree.
We’re now almost at the end of Jyu-Oh-Sei and for what it’s worth, I’ve really enjoyed it so far, even if it does feel like a guilty pleasure. There is something about it that is shallow and nonsensical; it’s probably Thor- I just can’t buy him as the “Jyu-Oh”, he doesn’t look tough, he is too trusting and appears to lack the commanding charisma needed to become a true leader. Zagi was a much more interesting personality (strong yet conflicted, passionate yet cold) but having just watched episode 9, I guess that’s him on the sidelines now. I’m getting bored of Third’s antics too, is it supposed to be obvious that he killed Karin? Third’s dark intentions have been clear since the first episode, so why bother with the mystery. A lot of Jyu-Oh-Sei is quite predictable and without the added depth of a few more character-driven episodes, the drama is always struggling against falling completely flat.
Along with the consistently attractive animation, Hajime Mizoguchi’s soundtrack is perhaps the reason why I enjoy watching each and every episode. I was a big fan of the compelling industrial, electronic ambience he contributed to Texhnolyze and here his music is just as immersive; driving the drama forward with heartful acoustics and overflowing strings.


Jyu-Oh-Sei – 5 through 6 – Lost Love

To my frank and utter bemusement, we are now over half way through the 11 episodes of Jyu-Oh-Sei and although a part of me is glad to see every episode crammed full with so much story and character development, I can’t help but lament a narrative which is clearly moving a bit too fast for its own good, not least of all Thor’s transition from talented kid to Ochre Ring’s respected Top in a measly two episodes.
It is a shame because the rest of this show is outstanding. The planet of Chimera strikes me as a colourful, vast and dangerous place to live, the main characters convey and conceal their ambitions admirably and the story drives ever onwards with themes of love, betrayal, conspiracy and strength. Watching the likes of Thor and Tiz grow into adults adds a real sense of the depth to their personalities and if only we had 26 episodes to play with, the interwoven character relationships could have crushed us with their climaxes; in particular, it would have been great to see a few more scenes devoted to fleshing out such an inevitably tragic heroine like Chen.
Jyu-Oh-Sei is an exciting and immersive experience, but now I’m doubtful it can become a real classic.
Fan-girl translation of the above:
I love Jyu-Oh-Sei! Not that I seen all the episodes in the anime nor read the manga but it makes me really happy to watch how cute they all are 2gether! yay! And aww, Third are sooooo cute!!! Why aren’t boys in the “real” as cute as him? mwihihi ^^
well to everyone who reads this, just watch the anime it’s worth it!!!


Jyu-Oh-Sei – 3 through 4 – Nature bites back

Again I get my hit of Jyu-Oh-Sei in double dosage, and again I’m left feeling completely intoxicated by it. It’s the story that I love; so thick with detail, almost every scene contributes something new or shocking, continuously building on the already heavy narrative with yet more helpings of tribal politics, social commentary and romantic entanglement.
The only real problem with Jyu-Oh-Sei is the intense homoerotic undercurrent. Consider Thor’s skimpy clothes and Third’s “friendly” personality and clearly this is a show perfect for the ladies’ Noitamina animation block in Japan (having previously aired Paradise Kiss amongst others). I’m not a lady though, so I’d rather Thor put on some trousers and get a haircut- and undoubtedly, it’s this very camp aesthetic style that has made it easier for people to write off Jyu-Oh-Sei- their loss, really.
By episode four, the story is moving into high gear; Third’s gradually showing his hand as both a callous manipulator and devious liar while Thor’s quest for his return home has only worsened after discovering that his space-dwelling life is limited to but a mere 8 or 9 more years; a side-effect of having been brought up in a space colony and then suddenly dumped on a foreign planet. Conspiracies and back stabbings are all being promised, and don’t be surprised if it turns out that Third’s behind it all.
Animation-wise Jyu-Oh-Sei rivals Black Lagoon for some of the most electrifying action scenes of the spring season. Watching Thor take down an ugly insect-like carnivorous plant was a particularly exciting moment; this was a scene full of kinetic motion, painful collision and gravity-defying ass-whoopery of the highest order that was very reminiscent of Miyazaki’s ground-breaking movie Nausicaa and The Valley of Wind.