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.
I consume a lot of anime in a purely superficial way; I watch it and enjoy it, but then forget about it. My favourites are those that burrow deeply into the subconscious, with certain moments and images able to rise back into mind at any given time; often, years after I’ve seen them, but why? Why is it that these particular stories have captured my heart and not others?
Not sure how I missed this, but the full soundtrack for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann was released recently; that’s 51 tracks of epic, exciting, heavenly music, and even better, it contains the one song I’ve be longing to hear since late-July. I’m talking about track 13 on Disc no.2; the translated title is “The Days Become a Traveller of a Hundred Generations”. For such a haunting, ethereal tone, it’s heard only once in the anime itself, during the first half of episode 18, but this single sequence, just a mere few minutes in length (may as well be an eternity), and the awe-struck feelings it conjured inside me, have long since remained close to my heart.
We begin around the 5:40 mark. Simon’s in the Gurren-Lagann, frantically searching for Nia. Before he can launch into the neon-lit sky-line of Kamina City, he’s curtailed by (the now-teenaged) Darry and Gimmy in their colourful Gulaparl mecha. They try to persuade Simon from needlessly worrying the citizens by flying around in the iconic Gurren-Lagann, its heroic image having come to represent the desperation of humanity’s recent past. In response, he just separates from the larger Gurren and brashly explodes into the clouds above, continuing his search for Nia regardless of their complaints.
The atmospheric music really kicks in as Simon tours the sprawling Kamina City, its concrete streets and sky-scraping buildings bathed in the warm, comforting glow of electricity. The architecture is strange and fascinating, having been influenced by the Gunmen style of design, strange faces; giant and carved from stone, protrude from the buildings, expressions half concealed by shadow. The Spiral King’s huge fortress, the smiling Dekabutsu, overlooks the rapidly developing city below, as worried search-lights scythe through the starry night sky.
The thing about this sequence and why it sticks in my memory isn’t anything to do with the characters or drama. It’s the clash of TTGL’s surreal reality with our conflicted, modern world. The way everything looks so familiar and yet, it’s dream-like too. The oppressive stature of the city, the huge stoney faces passing judgement on and manipulating the residents below. We immediately sense dystopia; a city that’s grown cold, twisted and without feeling. Suddenly, this is a world that’s alive with texture and detail. The song speaks of those feelings, a kind of knowing, regretful, beautiful sadness.
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.
The internet teaches harsh lessons; one of the most important is to be vigilant for spoilers. Something good was released on Sunday and subsequently, these past few days of surfing the rippling tide of written voices was gradually stifled by spiralling waves of paranoia. Yet as the dark of night finally drew in and the stars twinkled with an ephemeral beauty, the sea of emotion raging inside this blogger fell suddenly calm in anticipation of the end. That is, the end of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
Such is the quality of this series that it inspires me to write such melodramatic words. Time and time again, I’ve come away from it excited and brimming with enthusiasm, and of course, the end was no different. In fact, my heart was captured by the mere pre-credit sequence; Simon rolls in to save Nia, the now-familiar opera swells and the Gurren-dan assemble – each kitted up with their own bad-ass attitudes and standing on their hind legs like a group of little Rory Calhouns. They know, as we know, that this is IT. Time to kick ass.
I’ve always found it hard to write about Gurren Lagann. Any attempt at coherent bloggage is foiled simply because I like it too much; it’s just a quivering mass of animated awesome. Yet come every Monday and jaw on the floor after every single episode, I’ve been fighting that nagging feeling saying it’s my duty as an anime blogger to write about this show. It’s a disservice to myself and to you, dear reader, because while I’ve tried to keep a lid on it, Gurren Lagann just keeps getting better, and right now I’m oh so close to claiming it as my favourite anime of all time. So, pulsing with spiral energy, mine rippling rantage on episode the 25th begins.
With September in full swing, we find ourselves on the verge of the 2007 fall season. What? Already? I’m not prepared for any of that new stuff yet; it’s still too early for all these fall previews, autumn can go fuck itself. On the other hand, I’m still hopelessly devoted to a number of currently running series; hence this post, so end intro and cue this countdown of my favorites.
I watched episode 15 of Gurren Lagann last night. Put simply, it was awesome; the best episode so far, I can’t emphasize that enough. I wanted to blog it right there and then, but threw in the towel after two hours worth of typing had produced little more than a couple of paragraphs lined with superficial hyperbole. I must admit, even now – the morning after, I’m still struggling to come up with the words to explain exactly why it is so much fun; my only answer is to say that “it just is”.
Poking around the interweb, it’s becoming clear that I’m not the only one to have trouble talking about Gurren Lagann either. For example, it’s almost the smallest sub-forum (out of 11) under “Current Series” on AnimeSuki; 2,753 posts compared with the 3,044 under “sola” and 8,781 under “Lucky Star”. It didn’t even make the top 10 on last week’s Anime Nano Popularity Chart. Why not?
Through it’s provocative use of colors and symbols, Gurren Lagann relies on invoking a core emotional resonance within the viewer, but it’s so far disconnected from what we consider normal that we find ourselves gazing in awe, simply watching it all unfold. Watching, rather than participating; there is a clear separation between Gurren Lagann and the real world. That’s not the case with the majority of other anime, where the settings, the drama and even the characters are able to satisfy our nostalgia; allowing us to mentally place ourselves within story, to imagine that we are there.
This disconnect leaves me with little more to say about Gurren Lagann. It’s an “awesome” and “cool” series, fun and imaginative, but it’s different in that it won’t allow you to “escape” in the same way.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy episode 12 of Gurren Lagann. Obviously, it’s the cliche beach episode; and even from the preview, it looked like a waste of time. Mostly, the first half of this episode is tits and ass, constantly poking at the otaku, trying to incite moe. It has funny moments, but mostly, it’s colorful yet superficial nonsense.
The thing about Gurren Lagann though is that it acknowledges formulaic cheese, only to intentionally change the flavor. I’m talking about Yoko targeting through Nia’s flowing blonde locks, symbolically trying to deface the beloved moe icon. It’s kind of funny how we can swing from the cliche beach volleyball crap to this in just the one episode, but such is the spastic pace of Gurren Lagann, even the end of the world could flash past in an insane few minutes.
I must admit, I’m loving the villainous Spiral King and his minions of doom. They are just, so, damn, deliciously, EVIL. Also, I was a bit gutted to see Adiane pass; she was one wicked witch and thoroughly deserved her black and white graduation into the after life; sad that with her final words, she even apologies to belovedly-dead ape-man Thymilph, revealing an all-to-late human side. Now, what happens to poor old Viral? I’m hoping the writers have more in store for my favourite tortured blonde bastard. May be now they won’t be so quick to underestimate the human scum?
It’s not fair.
Amazing episode, amazing animation and amazing twist. I can’t believe we’ve just lost such a great personality. Gutted. I want to say more but there is no point, just watch this episode and you’ll understand this vast sense of emptyness. Where the hell does Gurren Lagann go now?!