In alot of ways, what keeps a longer manga engaging isn’t its main characters, but the side characters. Though our initial emotional investments as readers are in the main characters, the supporting cast and their links with those main characters are what keeps the story fresh.
Much has already been written about the first episode of Mawaru Penguindrum, the latest from Kunihiko Ikuhara (he of Revolutionary Girl Utena.) Like most, I really liked this first episode, but I’ve never been one to bother discussing plot details, rather, I just want to talk about art and post some pretty pictures, and like Madoka, Panty & Stocking and The Tatami Galaxy before it, Mawaru Penguindrum is an intricately-drawn feast for the eyes. I just couldn’t help myself.
Watching anime is like connecting the dots of a picture; one leads to another, forever changing the picture’s shape. Some dots are out on their own, but others are connected to everything else, making the overall picture that much clearer in my eyes. One obvious example here is Mobile Suit Gundam, the first real-robot anime, another is Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Anime such as these I’m proud to say I’ve seen, because they forever shape my understanding of the medium today. I realise what I’m doing here is advocating watching anime for educational purposes, which might not seem fun (I mean, this stuff is supposed to be fun, right?), but if a series is as revered today as it was in 1980, I find it’s safe to assume that it’s also pretty good.
In October of 2009, I started watching Revolutionary Girl Utena. One year later, almost to the day, I started watching Star Driver. In my mind, these two are connected. Although Star Driver is a much less serious (and, if truth be told, inferior) series to Utena, there are some obvious similarities. By way of the process described above, then, in April of this year, I also started watching 1979’s The Rose of Versailles. Utena led me forwards to Star Driver, but also backwards, to The Rose of Versailles. Such is the journey of an anime fan.
One of the saddest things about NANA is that its creator Ai Yazawa (who has been fighting against an unspecified illness since 2009) hasn’t been able to finish it. NANA is a story of dreams and ambition, and the characters have struggled too hard and for too long to be left hanging. I hope Yazawa rediscovers her desire to finish it.
If you haven’t done yourself the favour of reading the original Sailor Moon manga, I suggest you drop whatever stigmas or preconceptions you have of the series and find yourself a copy. Naturally, it suffers from the cliches it helped to establish: baddies-of-the-moment, elaborately named attacks, and a penchant for all the bad parts of 80s women’s fashion. Coupled with the toxic sweetness of Mamoru and Usagi’s relationship, if you go in expecting anything less than the crown jewel of the magical girl genre, you’ll be going in horrendously underprepared. That said, the manga has its merits, and Sailor Moon is definitely one of those “read the manga, skip the anime” type affairs. Any fan of really, really well-drawn and well-paced manga should read Sailor Moon.
The curious case of Kannagi
Watching anime for a long time (I’m talking years, really,) one can fall into certain patterns of viewing. I’ve grown accustomed to knowing what I like, and what I don’t, and picking the anime I watch according to my own tastes. There’s nothing wrong with this, it fundamentally makes sense, but it also leads one to miss out on certain shows that don’t immediately conform to my personal set of ‘requirements’; not every series is as easy to dismiss as I would like to believe (thank god,) therefore, I have devised a cunning plan.
Shoujo fantasy can be the genre of the story-lover, so filled it is with sweeping, emotive images. I can’t help but think that Revolutionary Girl Utena and Princess Tutu could be stripped of their dialogue and remain just as coherent, such is the overflow of feeling trapped within their every frame; every side-long glance, tentative posture and concealed desire.
Something about the transience of adolescence never fails to inspire. More often than not we wake up, 20, fully grown, and confused as to how we got there. For this reason, mangaka like Kamio Youko are a particularly rare breed. Time and time again, she manages to lushly recreate both the frame of mind and the emotional state of adolescence for her readers. Matsuri Special, her latest manga in a successful career is no exception.
Two years is a long time.
Just two years ago, I’d seen very few Japanese live-action films, only to eventually realise that my interest in anime was linked to a broader fascination with the whole spectrum of Japanese art; what I get from anime, I hear in Japanese music and see in Japanese film, too. This runs deep for me and I can’t explain why, but anyway, since that point, I’ve seen dozens of Japanese films; I have favourite directors and keep finding new music (the latest being World’s End Girlfriend).
Every new film is just the tip of another ice-berg, revealing only further depths of art and beauty. One of my biggest regrets about this blog is that I haven’t documented this journey into live-action nearly well enough, so, I’m sorry about that, guys, but this post, I hope, will at least go some ways to making amends, because last night I watched Air Doll and just had to write something.
Azure paler than the sky
Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of the most inscrutable anime I’ve seen. It’s like half of me is struggling to keep up with what I’m seeing, while the other, at some base level, just instinctively feels it and understands. I suppose you could call this confusion. Or schizophrenia. Whatever. Episode 29 is my favourite of the series so far, and definitely the one that best represents what I love about it.
Jury is on the brink of defeating Utena in their duel, all she need do is finish her opponent and be done with it, but she gives up instead; the sky grays, the rain falls and the match is over, but why? Why, having fought so hard, did she just give up?
Utena is all about this kind of theatrical epiphany, a duel of adolescence where every emotional facade is shattered, emotive in the way that the landscape shifts with mood, attaching life-changing significance to every word spoken and movement made. It’s apocalyptic romance.
For a while I tried to write an interpretation of Jury’s duel, but I’m not sure that’s what I want to do anymore. It’s like trying to put into words a beautiful painting, words just don’t capture it. Utena remains as inscrutable as ever, but it feels special. You just have to see it. That’s the best I can do.