What is my place in this world? What am I supposed to be? I ask myself these questions every day.
There’s no specific point to this post, but for a few days now, I’ve wanted to write something for my blog, and thus, here we are, dear reader. It’s just that time of the year, I guess; a blank page and hours to spare. Themes or no, after nearly three years of doing this, I can’t help but feel a tug at my heart to say at least something before this year’s end. So, here we go.
Perhaps the logical thing for me to do would be to write a year-in-review list or some other vague spin on that lovable tradition of anime blogging? But I don’t feel like doing that this time around, I’m more concentrated on what I’m watching right now, like Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It’s perfectly apt that the last anime I’ll finish in 2008 will be the one I’ve been locked in battle with since March. I’ll probably be relieved once it’s finally over, but probably a tad nostalgic too, because it’s always with such a bitter-sweet feeling that I let go of a story after such a long journey.
Another of those bitter-sweet journeys was Toward the Terra, which, I’m excited to note, I’ll (hopefully) be revisiting over Christmas via the original three-volume manga series, To Terra. I’m finding that my fascination with this story is an odd thing, really. It’s not easy for me to pin down either, but considering my feelings for a while, it may have something to do with the flow of time within the story.
Like in Gurren Lagann, where the characters seem to visibly age, grow into better people or terrible villains, but always changing. The same can be said of the thousands of years that pass between the stars in Gunbuster, or in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Such a clear and inevitable sense of flowing time, the characters’ lives, their dreams and ambitions, as brilliant as they may be, are so immensely small and ephemeral when set against the sheer magnitude of space and time. In such obscurity, it would be easy to give up, but these characters never do, they keep on going.
For me, that’s such a comforting sentiment, especially at the close of another year, where the subject of time progressing is literally the reason to party. So, if you celebrate it, I hope you have a great Christmas and, of course, a happy new year too. Ah, go on then, what did you get for Christmas? I hope you gave some awesome gifts, too?
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.
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.
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.
A 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!
It’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.