Hiroki Endo calling his manga ‘Eden‘ is a hint. Eden is supposed to be a paradise on Earth, but Endo‘s version is more like Hell. It’s sarcasm on his part, I think, because this is a contrary and brutal series, where anything that’s good is crushed and anything that’s innocent is (often literally) raped. For the last few days I’ve hardly been able to believe my eyes whilst reading this; everyone keeps dying, and even those who do survive, do so minus their humanity, or, even worse, minus their eye-balls.
Happy new year, everyone! Time sure flies and it’s now looking likely that this blog will live to see it’s fourth anniversary on the 4th of March, which is just… surreal!
This time of year also provides me with the rare opportunity to immerse in some new worlds of fiction. Last year I fell under the spell of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, but this time it was to be Tsutomu Nihei and his six volume Biomega that caught my eye.
Nihei is probably my favourite mangaka. It’s not like I’ve read a lot of manga, but this guy has held my admiration for a long time, ever since I stumbled over his first series, Blame!, where the dialogue is sparse, action is rapid and landscapes are wide, sprawling stretches of textured emptiness.
Knowing that some day you will die is not a prospect that one’s thoughts tend to dwell on, but in Casshern Sins, when death is everywhere and the land is ravaged with decay, that your life will some day end is impossible to ignore. It’s a feeling that I often get from this show, but far from ever seeming hopeless, each episode has an ephemeral, poetic warmth; refusing to linger in depression, it cherishes life, with color, and beauty, and sound. It is a joy to watch.
Flowing in this vein of hope, Margo’s own obscure achievements in episode 12 are typical of that irreplaceable essence of life. Just like any other robot in Casshern’s world, elegant Margo is slowly dying of the ruin, but instead of quietly accepting his fate, he keeps on going. In the throes of death, his elegiac last words reveal his heart’s truest motivation, “I wanted to leave my colour on my city”. It’s inspiring to think that he just wanted to be remembered, to leave a mark that proves that he was alive.
This was such a heartfelt parting sentiment, that honestly chimes with my heart, and exactly the kind of pathos that has me convinced that Casshern Sins is great.
When I finished watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes late last year, I felt like I’d had my fill of sprawling eighties anime series for a fair old time to come, but fate, it seems, has long been conspiring against me.
My destiny had seven scars on his chest. A mere swipe of his hand could (and invariably, will) render his enemies violently exploded! His name is Kenshiro, Fist of the North Star!
Firstly, I must admit, catching up with Hokuto no Ken has always been a secret ambition of mine. The 1986 “manga video” was a tangible part of my early years as an anime fan and exploring this whole, bloody story for the first time is akin to understanding that cliche feeling of a ‘child-like sense of wonder’.
Let’s face it, there’s no point in even trying to be objective about this, Hokuto no Ken is far, far, far from perfect. The story is predictable, the characters’ motivations are laughably ‘basic’ (‘without wit’ may be a better description) and the aesthetic is like some inbred, mutant offspring of Viking culture and Mad Max 2. So far, so flippin’ weird, but that’s why I love it, too!
People often forget anime; time always has the last word, but it seems many still remember Hokuto no Ken, which is ironic, as it’s probably the antithesis of what many fans would today describe as good anime; the manly ying to the moe yang, perhaps.
A subtle, beautiful and moving observation of life; Kenshiro’s journey is none of these things.
In 199X, the world is decimated by nuclear war. In-lieu of modern civilization, the strongest warriors have risen up to build vast armies of mohawked thugs and conquer the world. One of the few men brave enough to retain his honor and decency in this harsh new world (as evidenced by the fact that he wears denim jeans) is our hero Kenshiro, successor to the deadly martial arts style of Hokuto Shinken. He faces many fierce adversaries on his road to nowhere, including none other than his best friend, the blonde bombshell Shin.
Before abducting Ken’s fiancee Yuria, dragging her off to his castle and basically destroying Ken’s entire life up until that point, Shin was a good old boy, really. He just had some bad ideas about love, is all, but that will hardly stop Ken from sweeping across thousands of miles of broken cities and bitter deserts in search of delicious revenge.
The thing is, Kenshiro is a vigilante. He and his friends rarely live to fight another day; each battle is to the death and the so-called hero of this story could aptly be described as a mass-murderer too, which is, I think, why Hokuto no Ken has managed to retain its edge to this very day. It’s such an extreme and morally irresponsible show that one gets a giddy, visceral thrill from watching episode after episode of brutal, bloody death. That, and I think the art (particularly the character design) is great fun.
There are many square jawed, horse riding, really tall, massively fat and fundamentally odd-looking people in this. The facial expressions are often very funny and the voice acting is so melodramatic that I can’t help but be swept away by the sheer enthusiasm of it all. Logic be damned, then, I’m really enjoying Hokuto no Ken.
I had high hopes for Kurozuka, because it is a genre of anime I tend to enjoy, that being stylish, far-fetched, visually-intoxicating science fiction.
It is a beautifully drawn journey, in-which 1,000 years of vampiric romance sweeps across the Heian period of Japan to the bombing of Japanese cities during World War 2 to a post-apocalyptic future, but as the constant streams of action rush over the despairing atmosphere of the first half, it’s just a shame that the story’s poignancy seems to fade. That is not to say that Kurozuka isn’t good, because it is; it has some moments, and they are great.
Particularly disquieting is the image of Kuromitsu’s naked body wrapped around her lover Kuro’s severed head. Tortured by his eternal life, he wants to die, but loathe to be alone, she won’t ever allow it. Kuro’s life has been utterly consumed by Kuromitsu; forever trapped within her serpentine embrace, subjected to her every whim. One can only conclude that if love is a scary thing, then eternal love is positively chilling.
I also want to note that the first half has a particularly industrial and dystopian feel. Much like the quiet wanderings in Texhnolyze, Ergo Proxy and Blame!, Kuro’s many urban sojourns are quiet and contemplative affairs. The cities of the future have fallen into decay. Neon lights, concrete bricks and rusting steel grids scythe through murky buildings and even murkier corners. Their peoples are starved of hope, laying the streets, waiting to die. In such a scene, one can observe every tiny little detail of the city and sample the deep-fried life that courses through its veins.
There is a style to Kurozuka, an unabashedly violent streak, a harsh, cold beauty, that I admire. Most of all, it is a visual experience, and there’s not much else to it than that, but I’ve always found it enough to see something beautiful, or something provocative, twisted and weird, and wonder.
Never one to refuse an opportunity to read some delicious horror manga, I’ve whiled away these last couple of weeks plunging my eyes into the many dark crevasses of the internet, hoping in vain to uncover another crawling Enigma of Japanese terror. Forget about all this torture porn nonsense, forget about reality, for me, Halloween is about monsters and ghosts; weird, gross, malevolent abominations of nature inconceivably twisted by a mysterious ill-intent. Until last night, this hunt was rapidly failing. I had resigned myself to a Halloween of ghastly nothingness, but alas, at this most hopeless of hours, my damned savoir and his demented smile lurked forth from the shadows. His name was none other than Go Nagai and his bloody offering was Devilman. And it was perfect. Perfectly and utterly disturbing.
I mean that. When I’d finally finished reading Devilman, I was left in a state of genuine unease. This 5 volume manga series begins in a relatively innocuous fashion when, much like Batman, our anti-hero Akira Fudo agrees to merge his body with a super-powered demon in order to prevent those very same beasts from feasting on the powerless herds of mankind. This half of the story is typically episodic, with him fighting off any number of ghoulish imps. It’s certainly not scary, but contains a strange charm; monsters aren’t supposed to have feelings, they aren’t supposed to love each other, and yet, in Devilman, they do, and for their mystical, twisted romances, they will sacrifice everything.
“A brutal devil, a frightening devil. However, a form that should have been ugly and frightening, was beautiful to me. Unspeakably beautiful.“
What happens next can only be described as Armageddon.
After being profoundly frightened by an invasion of horrible demons, the world’s human populace is sent crawling back into the dark ages. Fearful of the monsters hiding amongst them, cowardly, heartless people incite impromptu witch-hunts and the executions of those randomly suspected to be the enemy, including Devilman and his friends. In this purge, no-one is spared; women, children, even babies are slaughtered. Every time you expect someone to be saved, it doesn’t happen. Everyone dies.
Early into the last volume, this ever spiraling sense of hopelessness deeply affected me. There is no escape from such chilling logic and these last two volumes contain some of the most shocking horror I’ve ever read. Go Nagai refuses to compromise on any level and forges ahead, determined to capture man’s self-inflicted and shameful end.
After everything that has happened, after Devilman has lost all that was dear to him, he understandably realizes that the human race isn’t worth saving, but he fights Satan anyway. The outcome is sad but that is fine, for this is real horror. It has monsters, violence, mythology, and, just as important, it has a point, a blunt, painful, affecting stab to the heart.
Head-spinning, stomach-turning and mind-racing are a few of the adjectives I’d choose to describe how I felt when I stumbled out of the cinema last night, having just suffered through Cloverfield. To say I’d been looking forward to this film would be an understatement, and even though I’d only discovered its baffling trailer in early January, the anxious wait until February the 1st (its official UK release) was incredibly frustrating. I mean, considering its earlier premiere in the US and the relative secrecy surrounding the central “creature” itself, I just desperately wanted to see this film for myself, and now that I have, here I am.
I loved Cloverfield, motion sickness and all! Even before setting foot at the cinema, I knew I’d love it. Giant monsters, ambiguous origins, unfathomable means. It’s all good. The complete destruction of New York City, depicted in an ultra-realistic style; seeing the Big Apple’s sky-scrapers gradually tumble like a pack of dominos in an inferno of reverberating, twisted metal. Suffice to say, it’s an awesome spectacle, but I digress, this is an anime blog. Must talk about anime.
When one thinks of monster flicks, Godzilla, Japan’s bastion of pop culture, is a behemoth of the genre and yet, for every man-in-a-suit movie, there’s few traditional giant monster/disaster stories in anime. Sure, we have the likes of Evangelion, but even then, that’s much more of a character study than anything else. What I’m thinking of is a pulpy, survival-based story in which humanity is pushed to its very limits of endurance and forced to fend off the constant attacks of an unknown enemy. Having wracked my memory for hours, one TV series crawls to mind; 1999’s Blue Gender.
When Yuji Kaido, Blue Gender’s young protagonist, is diagnosed with a baffling new illness, he is shelved in cryogenic stasis for an indefinite period of time, comforted only by the promise that he’ll be woken the very moment doctors develop a cure, something that’s currently beyond medical science. Years, maybe even decades, later, Yuji stirs from his great long slumber, though the world he wakes in isn’t exactly the modern paradise he left behind. Earth’s been overrun with giant insect-like creatures called the “Blue”, and of course, they feed on humans. Any semblance of government and army has withdrawn to “Second Earth”; a large space station housing the last remnants of modern civilisation. The few people remaining on Earth, starving and hiding in the rubble of destroyed cities, are being picked off, one by one, by the man-eating monsters, as humanity formulates its last shot at survival.
Blue Gender, much like Cloverfield, doesn’t take prisoners. Life is cheap and of the dozen or so soldiers who come to rescue Yuji from his “forever dream”, only one survives to see him safely back to “Second Earth”. In this series, man’s absolutely lost his place at the top of the food chain and he’s left, like the rest of nature, to live in the constant fear of being hunted. One of the things I loved about the first half of Blue Gender was this strong sense of hopelessness clinging to the characters as they travel across barren wastelands and empty cities, not knowing how or when the next attack will commence. It makes for riveting viewing because, in this world, there is no sentiment, no rules about who dies or when, everyone is constantly haunted by the spectre of death, almost driven insane with fear, no doubt imaging just how it’ll be when their time comes. I first watched Blue Gender on the Sci-Fi channel around about 2001/2; I still remember how, every Thursday evening at mid-night, there it was, another episode to devour. We never missed an episode (much to lament of our father, who’d rather be watching fishing programs) and that’s a tribute to the quality of this series and indeed, some day, I’m hoping to see it again (preferably not dubbed this time). It’s most definitely horror in the vein of “Aliens“, but if you loved Cloverfield, I’m quite certain you’ll find yourself hooked on Blue Gender too. I mean, everyone loves an apocalypse every now and then, right?