Archive for March, 2011
To be frank, Ikigami is most remarkable for its premise: A certain Asian country has instituted a public program of injections for every child; one in 100,000 will painlessly fall over dead during early adulthood. Moreover, the government keeps records and notifies the victim and his or her family exactly 24 hours before the projected time of death. The stated purpose is to instill in every citizen a fear of death, which encourages them to live every day to its fullest.
(There’s also a creepy “thought crime” element to this society: anyone who disagrees with this philosophy is immediately carted away and never seen again.)
Yes, the premise is ridiculous. This would never happen. And unfortunately, a lot of this volume’s pages are spent defending the injection program to the reader, explaining how citizens’ records are kept separate to avoid bias, etc. This may be important for later plot development, but there was too much of it for me in this volume. I’d rather the program just exist and get on with the story.
Fortunately, the injection program is not the plot’s focus; Ikigami uses its premise to tell anthology stories about one particular government official and his, well, “victims” for lack of a better term. The manga asks the question: given the pressures on you, what would you do if you knew you only had 24 hours left to live? Every 100 pages or so of this manga tell the story of one individual’s last day on Earth.
These stories are told in an often-dramatic fashion; I found a lot of dramatic camera angles and close-ups that felt far more intense than the actual situation demanded. It’s as though Motoro Mase, the artist, was trying to stir up the reader’s emotions for mundane stories.
Moreover, Masa uses a fairly small range of distinctive character design elements, so at some points I had a tough time tracking who was who.
Nevertheless, Masa’s character stories progress at an impressively steady pace; action sequences are clear and easy to parse, and information comes at you at just the right pace to be easily absorbed. Excepting the long sequences explaining the injection program, of course.
One nice thing about Ikigami‘s premise is that it changes nothing about each victim’s life. Nobody gets a huge pile of cash or a gun. Moreover, a…dramatic exit will leave behind quite a mess for the victim’s family. So most victims don’t end up wallowing in hookers and blow. They focus on their actual lives and their legacy.
Overall, I felt that Ikigami needs a few volumes to settle itself into its plot. It feels like Masa is exploring his premise here, and that future volumes are more likely to fully satisfy the reader. This first volume satisfied me, though.
(Interestingly, Tomoyuki Takimoto directed a live-action film adaptation of Ikigami, which was released in 2008. I wonder how it’s structured.)
Author: Kazuki Sakuraba
Length: 9 volumes
Manga adaptation: Yes
Anime adaptation: Yes
Gosick is fundamentally a gothic thriller. The mystery is not nearly as important as the mood. Gosick wants to freak you out, not challenge you with an intellectual puzzle.
Now, this may be my bias. I grew up reading Agatha Christie novels, so I’m used to adult mysteries, with a large cast of suspects and a complex murder investigation. Christie and her ilk provided cerebral challenges, spiced with interpersonal drama.
Gosick is, well, gothic, in the sense of Victorian gothic novels filled with cloudy skies, crumbling manor houses, strange servants, and eccentric house guests.
Volume 1 of Gosick introduces us to Kujo, a bland Japanese teenager whiling away his days at a prestigious European boarding school, and fellow student Victorique (“Victoria” in some translations), a doll-like young girl who is clearly modeled on Sherlock Holmes: aloof, perceptive, unbelievably intelligent, and horrified of boredom.
She’s a tsundere, yes, and she has a reason for being one. Her rapacious intellect has consumed so much information that most people are perfectly predictable to her. Nobody interests her. I appreciate this; so many tsundere characters have no motivation for their behavior.
However, I grew tired of Victorique’s attitude by about the halfway point. Kujo’s a nice guy sacrificing a lot of his time for her, and she consistently puts him down. There’s a strong streak of unjustified brattiness to her behavior. Fortunately, the reader can basically ignore those bits.
And by the end (no spoilers here), they do grow a little closer. As with any good adventure story, the plot of this volume allows for a bit of welcome character development, particularly on Kujo’s part.
Fair warning: the plot includes some disturbing content, including violence towards children. I personally had a tough time with that material, and ended up skimming a few pages.
It’s also a bit strange to read a light novel that feels like it’s being written for animation. There are several bits–particularly the police assistants who hold hands and talk in unison while skipping together–that made absolutely no sense and felt like sight gags.
But overall, this is a moody, fun read, with intense characters and a strong atmosphere. I’m looking forward to reading the second one.
Mobile Suit Gundam: A revolution, cheaply animated.
Zeta Gundam: Beautiful and depressing.
ZZ Gundam: Not as funny as you might think.
Victory Gundam: Tomino proving he can write female characters by killing one every episode.
Char’s Counterattack: For the fans, because Char’s awesome.
Gundam 0080: Kids and war do not mix.
Gundam 0083: Every Gundam cliché.
Gundam F91: Too much at once.
Gundam 08th MS Team: A complete Gundam series in one OVA.
G Gundam: 70′s cheese, perfectly executed.
Gundam Wing: Pretty boys and politics.
Gundam X: A Saturday afternoon adventure.
Turn-A Gundam: Tomino proving that Gundam is anti-war by making a Gundam series with no war.
Gundam Seed: Gundam, modernized and distilled.
Gundam Seed Destiny: Seed times 2
Gundam 00: Oh, you’re all grown up now.
Gundam Unicorn: For the fans, who’ve waited so long.
Director: Kazuya Konaka
Creator: Osamu Tezuka
Scenario Writer: Chiaki J. Konaka
Studio: Dentsu and Tezuka Productions
I always have a difficult time writing about Astro Boy, since I never know how much my readers know about Astro. Tezuka built a large cast of characters and baked in several unique in-jokes.
So, if you’re not familiar: In the future, a scientist named Dr. Tenma loses his son in a traffic accident. As the head of Japan’s Ministry of Science, Tenma directs them to build a sentient super-robot which just happens to look exactly like his lost son. Upon completion, the robot–Atom in Japanese, Astro in the English adaptation–is not human enough for Tenma, who disowns Astro and disappears. Astro then lives a dual life, both trying to have a normal boy’s life of school and play, and fighting larger-than-life monsters, aliens, and criminals.
What makes it Thinking Anime?
As with so many Astro adaptations, much of this series focuses on villains-of-the-week, many of which introduce themes of injustice, bigotry, and greed. The last third of the show develops and focuses on a few major themes. The writers revisit themes that Tezuka explored, but in ways rarely seen in animation.
This version manages to capture all of the franchise’s major themes: prejudice, justice, moving forward with one’s life despite (and because of) adversity, and what it means to be human. Every episode has a moral, of course, but the major story arcs of the series build an overarching plot that probes those major themes in some detail.
And about those story arcs: Astro is stuck in the middle of all these problems (as usual). A group of robots decides to start a robotic freedom movement, creating their own independent state, led by a charismatic robot called the Blue Knight. This can be fruitfully compared with the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam: a frustrated, oppressed people are led by vocal, eloquent, and violent leaders to demand equal rights and, in the extreme, a separate state. (Not to suggest that the writers of Astro Boy had the Black Panthers in mind; just that parallels exist.)
Moreover, each side is represented by a large range of characters. Some humans are kind, some indifferent, and some evil. So, too, with the robots, most elegantly portrayed in episode 38.
Episode 38, “Battle-Bot,” deserves special mention. I call it their Gundam episode, as it includes many common Gundam story and visual motifs. A set of robots built as a family (to simulate family dynamics) is essentially scrapped. The daughter escapes, is recruited by the Blue Knight, and decides to have weapons grafted onto her body so she can fight to rescue her family. Astro pleads with her to avoid the procedure, as doing so will irrevocably change her. She goes ahead with the procedure anyway, leading to a poignant final scene in which we see that she is no longer their daughter. Her robot family still loves her, but she’s something different now; she’s not what they loved before. Which is a beautiful metaphor for growing up, but also for the terrible price that has to be paid for becoming a weapon. To preserve her family, she destroyed something vital to it.
(Of course, the family can continue in a different way now, but she was fighting very much for the family she remembered. Which would never be the same.)
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s the most satisfying, complete ending to any Tezuka work I’ve seen or read. Granted, Tezuka often didn’t want his endings to be particularly satisfying. His stories often end with tension and uncertainty about the future, which is part of his genius.
The 2003 series is smart enough to understand that it’s not a manga; the writers knew exactly how many episodes they were going to produce, so a concrete ending is appropriate. And what an ending.
Astro Boy 2003 not only adapts the Astro Boy story effectively, it does so with power and a unique take.
A closer look at the Black Rock Shooter anime.
Are you smarter than the average fan? That’s good.
Episode 2 of our live call-in show, where we talk about which anime you’d recommend for an otaku, the shift towards female AMV creators, and whether fanservice cheapens a show.