One of the biggest surprises of the summer season has been Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. A name as bad as that is enough to scare away most, but that this is both a mecha anime and a bloody brutal one at that is stranger still. Whether it can live up to the intensity of these first two episodes is another question entirely, but right now, it’s just nice to reflect on a job well massacred! The root cause of it all? Aliens, of course! Earth’s invaded, humanity’s out-matched and Japan’s moe legions are our first line of defence. Would you feel confident?
One thing we may deduce about author Mohiro Kitoh from Bokurano and Narutaru is that he probably had a few bad experiences growing up.
It’s otherwise very difficult to understand why his stories about children are quite so fucked-up. Case in post, Narutaru, of which I just finished watching the anime adaptation.
I finished Bokurano this weekend, just as planned. 24 episodes in 5 days isn’t bad at all, as I’ve never been one to enjoy marathoning through anime. After all, I ended up needing nearly 2 whole years to catch up with 300+ episodes of One Piece, so, starting and finishing Bokurano in a matter of days is something of a surprise to me, but also a credit to its quality, in that it managed to keep my interest piqued for hours on end.
As I mentioned last week, I think Bokurano is a fascinating story. 15 children are mysteriously tricked into piloting this giant robot (called ‘Zearth’) to fight off a string of ‘alien invaders’. If they choose not to fight, Earth will be destroyed. If they lose their fight, Earth will be destroyed, and after they win, the pilot selected for that one battle will die. It’s a rigged game with no winners and the children have no hope of escaping this fate, so inevitably, their lives take on a new meaning. Knowing full well their days are numbered, they are forced, perhaps for the first time in their young lives, to find something worth living for, or rather, something worth dying for.
These children are not your cliche anime characters with green hair and big eyes. They are normal, almost dull-looking teenagers. They have parents too. I’ve noticed that, for whatever reason, parents don’t often play a big role in anime. From Code Geass to Macross Frontier, there is always a convenient excuse contrived to explain away why parents are absent. I suppose teenage megalomania wouldn’t be quite as enthralling if our mini-Machiavellis had to be in bed by 10pm because it’s a school night. What I’m trying to say is that, in this way, so much anime is an adolescent fantasy of independence, far removed from reality, but Bokurano is a satire, an unflinching critique of modern life. It doesn’t pull punches.
One of the most memorable arcs is that of the unfortunate 7th grade girl, Chizuru Honda. She falls into a love affair with her handsome school teacher, who also happens to be a paedophile. He exploits her naivety and seduces her, sets-up hidden cameras in his apartment and posts pictures of them ‘doing it’ online. All this and he starts dating Chizuru’s older sister too. So, when it’s her turn to pilot Zearth, Chizuru guns straight for her school and the bad teacher, but just as she is about to stomp him into the ground, her sister jumps in. If killing the teacher means killing her sister, Chizuru can’t do it. That, ultimately, is her reason for fighting; when she wins, and therefore dies, it’s all for her family. Moments after her death, it’s revealed that Chizuru was pregnant.
It’s not a story that shies away from controversy or taboo, but not every character arc is as tragic or as dramatic as Chizuru’s was. Some are saccharine to the point of nauseam, others are uneventful, or mundane. Such is life; people have their own ways of finding value and beauty, often in obscurity. As much as Bokurano is rife with social commentary and attacks on commercialism, that these children find real reasons to live, and die, is important.
When they are first contracted as Zearth pilots, it’s worked so that their favourite chairs are placed in the cockpit. Each chair is unique to that pilot, built in a way that’s so personal and symbolic of its owner’s personality. Plastic, artificial and rigid, or small, soft and humble. Apparently, you can understand a lot about someone just by examining their favourite chair; it’s a quaint, lovely touch. Likewise, each child faces an alien mecha that’s designed to look more like a moving Rorschach inkblot; a visual interpretation of their innermost fears and anxiety. That, really, should say all that you need to know about Bokurano, it’s the kind of science fiction that works best as symbolism and morality, about trying to find worth in living, and dying, as a completely normal, insecure, fragile, imperfect person.
On the context of dropping anime
One of the most difficult decisions an anime fan has to make is whether or not to ‘drop’ a series. For me, it’s often a snap decision; not really based on any objective criteria, rather, it depends on how I’m feeling at that specific moment. As a result, I’ll often make some impulsive mistakes; errors in judgement that might come back to haunt me a year or two down the line. Well, I have to admit, it was a mistake to drop Bokurano when I did, but the context is important too.
2007’s spring season was immense; Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Dennou Coil, Toward the Terra, Seirei no Moribito, Code Geass, Darker Than Black and Claymore were all occupying my attention. Originally, I was trying to fit Bokurano into that line-up too, but it ended up being the odd one out. Why? I didn’t like what the director had to say about the source material, and that, combined with my generally cynical opinion of anime studio Gonzo, was all the ammunition I needed to drop something from the list. Looking back on that decision now, I can see I was being obtuse in the extreme, but for the sake of sanity, one can’t spend all his time watching anime, and hence, dropping Bokurano gave me a little breathing space.
One year on, things are slightly different. Late on Thursday evening, I found myself yearning for a story with an interesting premise. My thoughts immediately turned to Bokurano; the way I dropped it, the way my fellow bloggers really loved it and most of all, the way it’s such a fascinating idea for an anime series. Long story short, by now I’m 14 episodes in and hoping to finish the whole thing in time for a proper review next weekend. Indeed, I’m annoyed at myself for being so presumptuous as to even drop it in the first place, but I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to revise my opinion too.
I guess what I’m trying to say is something that’s obvious, but worth saying anyway, that opinions, good or bad, are as much about personal context, essentially, that specific moment in time in which they were formed, as they are about the actual anime in-question. So, for all of your seemingly water-tight judgement, something you might have dropped (or even ignored) in the past might not be as bad (or as good) as you remember it to be. Don’t be so arrogant as to presume your opinions are (and always will be) absolute. They expire just like everything else.
Jesus, it’s the end of another year. I’ve had fun in 2007; being a part of the anime blogging community and writing for you, dear reader. I’m not sure I’d last long if it wasn’t for your comments, but here we are, almost two years on and still talking, ranting, in love with anime. Back during September, I was wondering if I’d ever just suddenly grow out of all this, stop blogging and disappear, but deep down, the truth has never been in doubt; I’m an anime fan forever and you’ll take this passion, these feelings, when you pry them from my cold dead fingers. This review of 2007 begins now.
For all my hyping of Bokurano, the anime adaptation ended up being woefully mediocre. Much like their similarly soulless treatment of other good horror manga like Gantz and Hellsing, Gonzo’s vision of Bokurano was poorly animated and depressing, almost completely lacking in the "beautiful tragedy", truth and innocence that permeates Mohiro Kitoh’s brilliant original story. For an anime studio capable of producing epic series like Gankutsuou and Last Exile, 2007 was an utter failure for Gonzo, but don’t worry, Afro Samurai 2 will be here soon; that’s going to be good, right?
Claymore is an inferior clone of Berserk. The Awakened Beings are Apostles, Isley looks a lot like Griffith and Rigardo is a replica of Zodd. That being said, I like dark fantasy and Claymore was good enough on a superficial level to entertain and occasionally capture my imagination. It was violent and harsh, but I rarely felt like I cared about the characters, and by the end, the rushed climax had further degenerated into a predictable sequence of grunts and power-ups. Berserk is amongst the finest anime of all time, this isn’t.
I really want to love Mononoke; it’s beautifully animated, artsy and daringly creative, but still, I find it somewhat elusive. I feel like it exists simply to be as elegant, surreal and weird as possible; 23 minutes later, the episode has finished and I’ll move on to something else. It’s a lot like Mushishi; episodic and few-to-none recurring characters, but where that’s magical, reflective and relaxed, Mononoke is an ultra-violet and ambiguous puzzle.
10. Darker Than Black
Nothing’s worse than wasted potential. For Darker Than Black, Studio Bones reunited a lot of the staff involved in the mesmeric Wolf’s Rain, including maestro Yoko Kanno and director Tensai Okamura, but other than brief glimpses of former glory, this was just another "good" series which never really found it’s own identity. The story arcs would pointlessly leap between hard-boiled drama, stupid comedy and comic-book horror, but without any of the comradery or personality seen in the likes of Cowboy Bebop, it regularly came across as false and ultimately, a forgettable disappointment.
9. Code Geass
I’m a tad embarrassed to admit I enjoyed watching Code Geass. Let’s get something straight, it’s an utter mongrel of an anime series ripe with cliche fan-service, mecha and an anti-hero ripped straight out of Death Note. Hell, it’s even sponsored by Pizza Hut. With all that said, I won’t deny that this show had me riveted from start ’til end; much like watching a giant train wreck, I simply enjoy seeing it all go off the rails (that’s a metaphor, I don’t actually watch footage of train wrecks). No doubt, Code Geass is a sensational failure, but sensational none the less.
8. Genshiken 2
I’ve always liked Genshiken. It’s perceptive and funny, and certainly fits being labeled as "slice of life", as it’s also meandering and aimless. Its quality and its failing is that it’s a quite literal depiction of otaku life, and in general, life is aimless and meandering; there is no grand design we’re all following (if you haven’t guessed, I’m not especially religious), we simply are, and that’s it. Genshiken 2’s beauty is in depicting this transience, there is a palpable realization amongst the characters that they’re growing apart the way we all do; they are prepared for it, this parting of the ways, but it’s sad to see none the less. You won’t quit on me yet, guys?
7. Seirei no Moribito
The third episode of Seirei no Moribito is probably the singe best episode of anime I’ve seen all year. The action, intensity, music and animation were all top notch, but gradually, everything slowed down and the story moved in a completely different direction. Within ten episodes, we had traveled (quite literally) from an utterly compelling sequence of cool action scenes to something more akin to an intimate family drama. Of course, Seirei no Moribito remains a beautifully animated fantasy, but it feels over-long and ultimately, strikes a slightly uneven balance between big explosions and quiet sentimentality.
The thought of violence in anime almost immediately conjures fountains of bright red blood and contorted screams, yet there is little in the way of genuine sadism. Step forward Shigurui; a series that takes pleasure in lingering on impact, ensuring we flinch with every punctured eye-ball and severed nipple. This is animation madly in love with the human body and almost sadomasochist in its intent to contort, scar and rip the flesh. Set in a time when traditions and morals were twisted and forced, it’s hard to recommend something as outright disturbing and serious as this, yet it’s so fascinating and meticulous; humanity at its basest level.
Anime tends to specialize in characters and relationships, but the pleasure in watching Baccano! is simply in seeing a particularly intricate story gradually reveal its labyrinth of secrets. Every episode is consistently dense with mystery and intrigue as we are dragged back and forth in time to reveal untold depths of supernatural power and immortal betrayal. The rather slapstick humor is often at odds with surprising levels of cruelty and gore but best of all is an exciting sequence of action escalating on-top of a moving train.
4. Death Note
I sat down with Death Note having carefully avoided the manga spoilers for what felt like an eternity and was rewarded with a thrilling and addictive story that’s constantly asking questions of its viewers. Between his infamous games of brinkmanship with L and the rest, we’re regularly questioning Light’s motives for using his Death Note. Though he’s striving for, and even getting close to world peace, does that justify his mass-murdering spree? Or rather, is he just another sly megalomaniac enjoying his pointless power trip? It’s a great feeling to discover a story like this, something that’s still capable of creating new ideas and playing with our concepts of justice and heroism without ever resorting to a tacked-on happy ending. Light is the main character, yet he is a villain; an insane bastard who’s playing with lives simply because he’s bored. He deserves his end, and yet, when everything inevitably crashes down, I feel pity, I don’t want him to die. I liked the second opening, too!
3. Toward the Terra
I never really expected to like (let alone love) Toward the Terra. Though I’m always willing to give honest science fiction a fair crack, this didn’t have the best of starts. I stopped watching Heroic Age because it was stupid and boring, but around about the same time, my opinion of Toward the Terra was changing; perhaps it was the use of time-leaps — we see these heroes and villains grow over time, how they change from whiney children into strong and conflicted adults; with each passing episode, there is a sense that we know these characters, understand their grief and desires. Aside from some positively epic genocide (exploding planets), the heart of what’s great about Toward the Terra is this compelling battle of wills between Jomy and Keith, we’re constantly wondering whether or not Keith can cast aside everything he’s been taught and embrace the Mu for what they are, while Jomy continues to struggle with his thirst of revenge and perpetuating the cycle of violence. Toward the Terra has a lot to say about racism and discrimination, but it’s also exciting, action-packed and riddled with tragedy; a great story, set amongst the stars, that plays out over decades of time.
2. Dennou Coil
Good animation goes a long way to attracting my interest in a series and what’s immediately apparent about Dennou Coil is that it’s vibrant and full of life. It’s like everything moves, everything is considered, and you’re watching someone literally imprint their thoughts and dreams onto a frame. At its best, that’s how it feels to watch Dennou Coil, it’s like someone’s vivid memories of childhood suddenly sprung to life, the neon colors and honest fun of those days, the half-formed hints of emotions fraying between friends and mingling with some pointless adventure. There is that sense of not really being able to express yourself, despite everything about you; the way you look and the way you sound, even the way you stand, making it seem so obvious how you feel.
1. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
To be honest, it seems like everyone loves Gurren Lagann, and though I didn’t want this countdown to be that predictable, the truth is that, almost from the first episode, I was head over heels in love with this show too. No other series would so consistently leave me burning with passion after every episode; leave me feeling like I just had to write about it, as if it were my duty to report how I felt. All you need to see is that opening minute of the first episode, "so all the heavenly lights are the enemy?" This one moment encapsulates so much of what’s good about Gurren Lagann; the impossibly epic scale, the insurmountable odds facing the Gurren-dan and Simon’s brash, unbeatable confidence. It’s mind blowing, and just seeing that, I knew I’d love this series.
I’m desperately trying to keep this short, but there is still so much to say, like how "Libera me from Hell" is such a weird yet great song, or how the story delivers heart warming ideas of friendship, comradery, love and even sacrifice. It ends perfectly, too; bitter-sweet and sad, time having taken its toll on our heroes, yet it just feels right, like everything that needed to be said has been screamed from the highest mountain, and now it’s time to step back, stop fighting and embrace the future. Gurren Lagann is, by far and away, the best anime series of 2007.
I’ve seen seven episodes, but I’m yet to pass much comment on the Bokurano anime. Given its rather controversial themes and notably downbeat tone, I’m not sure if it’s right to say I’m enjoying it. I don’t have fun watching Bokurano, it doesn’t inspire me to wax lyrical about it’s quality, in fact, I find it depressing and frustrating, and yet, here I am, anyway.
It’s a brave series that deserves attention for tackling so called social taboos in an ultra-realistic setting. It’s a series about children with real problems surrounded by adults who, by and large, are so self obsessed that they couldn’t give a shit about anyone else. As of episode seven, the latest pilot of giant robot Zearth is Chizuru Honda. On the face of it, she’s the next kid to die saving the world – nothing new about that, every mecha anime has its martyrs, but at home things are a little different. Chizuru is a victim of paedophilia; she is photographed and abused by her school teacher. How is that for motivation?
Bokurano resonates because it delivers shocking drama viscerally depicted within contemporary Japan. It feels like original creator Mohiro Kitoh is wondering whether or not civilisation is worth saving – these children, their personalities coloured by their environments, have all been burnt by society, so why keep on fighting? It’s notable that in the heat of their mecha battles, it doesn’t feel like they are fighting to protect anyone, instead they are unleashing their pent up rage and anger on a selected and faceless target, it’s almost a co-incidence that in doing so, they buy humanity another couple of days worth of existence.
It’s true that the animation could be better; it’s also true that the translation from the Bokurano manga to anime hasn’t been completely faithful. I don’t care, because this still feels like an important series that needs to be seen.
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.
Its been a while readers, 7 days to be precise, and as we all know, 7 days on internet may as well be a lifetime. I won’t labor you with the details, but suffice to say that this gradual slow down in blogging is sadly down to cliche reasons; I have found a new job that forces me awake by 6:30AM- an ungodly and surreal time to be conscious when to my horror even the moon is still mockingly pinned up in the night sky.
Being too tired to watch much anime I’ve still found the time to maintain a heathly staple of Enel-flavoured One Piece and even discover a brand spanking new manga series to read; Bokurano.
I’m not a regular manga reader by any means, but there were a few things that forced me into checking this out – an anime adaptation has just been announced and will be directed by Studio Ghibli’s up and coming Hiroyuki “The Cat Returns” Morita, further more it’s a story penned by Mohiro Kitoh; the man responsible for inflicting Shadow Star Narutaru on unsuspecting Pokemon fans – in Kitoh’s Narutaru, the Pokemon kill, are killed and torture their innocent trainers; in other words, the author is pretty twisted, unpredictable and has a real nasty streak. By now you should have picked up that I enjoy horror.
Bokurano continues his favoured trend of throwing kids into bizarre and horrific situations. The story is basically that 14 children, who think they are simply signing up for an elaborate video game, naievely agreeing to protect the Earth against a force of invading aliens. In these regards Bokurano is very similiar to Neon Genesis Evangelion; the aliens, who attack one by one, are giant monsters with extremely variable fighting styles. The kids fight in a giant robot.
Set against what they at first brush off as simply a game, the 14 children begin to die off either in battle or straight after. Then once the fighting is finished, they return to their every day lives to face up to devestation left behind; in one such city-centred clash, 40,000 civilians were killed (most likely squished) in the carnage.
Ultimately the kids are going into each battle knowing that one of them will die and that along the way thousands of innocents will perish too – if they refuse to fight, the world will end. As they say – no pain, no gain.
From the very first few pages I’ve been in love with Bokurano. At once a heart breaking drama and compelling sci-fi mystery, Mohiro Kitoh’s refusal to pull punches makes this a shocking and captivating read that gets better with every chapter. Indeed it is giant robot manga, but given its ultra realistic take on both the characters and the consequences of giant mecha combat, Bokurano feels fresh and exciting. It will be a massive hit as an anime series, so get in now on the ground floor and discover Kitoh’s twisted drama nice and early, I’m looking forward to be able to say “the manga is better”.