Archive for May, 2012
Back then, anime was still for kids, both in the public’s mind and in anime’s content. That attitude was beginning to change as shows like Mazinger Z and Galaxy Express 999 introduced bloodier violence, occasional fanservice, and the death of named characters.
So, Captain Harlock has a low sheet count. All shows of that time had the same problem, and the sheet count increases as the series progresses. Characters are often
The director, Rintaro, compensates for this lackluster animation quality with an artistic approach to many shots. He also directed the anime film Metropolis, which features a similarly artistic visual style.
I’ll demonstrate this style with one moment early in the series. A
The screen then divides into four uneven columns, the borders angled like rays from the sun, and each one shows a slightly different moment of the doctor falling backwards. Then he hits the ground, still
This was in a kids’ action show.
I must warn you about one thing about the story: the first few episodes focus on a side story: a young girl that Harlock protects. It felt like a strange place to start: Captain Harlock, the big action hero and wanted pirate, keeps returning to earth to stop the bullying of a small child. She becomes more important later in the show; I just wish it hadn’t started with quite so much focus on her.
The story progresses into a big space opera action/adventure story of pirate ships,
Even though Harlock is an action story, each major character except Harlock himself gets one episode of backstory, extending them beyond
The eclectic cast of characters deserves this attention. We have Harlock, a stoic and trusting leader with an unknown past. Miime, an alien woman with no mouth, acts as Harlock’s confidante now that she’s “pledged her life to Harlock.” Yuki, the navigator, is a very young woman who seems
Then there’s Daiba, a 15-
This highlights an interesting aspect of Harlock: the contrast between Daiba and Harlock himself. Harlock appears to be in his 30′s, and has the wisdom of an experienced adult. He often councils patience–and just as often charges into impossible situations because he has a strategy. The plot is all about outwitting one’s opponent, and finding the right balance between action and observation.
Speaking of the opponents: two aspects of the series’ primary villains deserve mention. The
Secondly, when a Mazone dies, she immediately catches fire, screams like a banshee, and collapses in a heap of blue flame, burnt to ashes in seconds. I use the banshee cliché deliberately; not only did the sound editor use the same scream whenever a Mazone dies, it is pitched high, loud, and agonizing. It jangles the nerves.
Mazone do not get mowed down in droves; they scream as though they’re being tortured. It adds weight to the action.
The voices fit their characters well; not surprising, considering this is a classic series. Harlock’s deep voice sounds grand and gritty; Yuki sounds young and lush; Miime is lilting, quiet, and mysterious. This is important; the show features a wide emotional range from quiet conversations between characters, tense negotations with alien infiltrators, and
I also sing the praises of Harlock‘s music: a full orchestral soundtrack that’s big, bold, and brassy. A perfect compliment to the series, the music fully deserves a separate listen.
Overall, Space Pirate Captain Harlock was an unusual experience. The villains’ mystery kept shifting just enough to keep me intrigued, and the characters’ personalities bounced off each other in interesting ways. The art and story had all the drawbacks of the show’s era. I kept looking forward to the occasional artistic flourish.
It’s a classic, and deserves to be treated as one, flaws and all.
Artist/Writer: Naoko Takeuchi
Published in: 1991–1997 (Japan), 2011-present (America)
American Publisher: Kodansha/Random House
Genres: Magical girl
Premise: A ditzy schoolgirl, Usagi, gains the power to transform into a magical girl. Oh, come on; it’s Sailor Moon. Next you’ll be asking me for the premise of Star Wars.
Is it dumb? Nope. It’s carefully structured, pulling the girls together one by one, introducing their personalities and hinting at the big plot.
How’s the art? Heavily stylized. The girls have very long legs, and the panels tend towards extreme zooms on faces. Some faces are actually too big for their panels.
So, should I read it?
I’ve been debating that question ever since I read this volume.
On the one hand, the story is carefully structured, pulling the girls together one by one, introducing their personalities and hinting at the big plot. Novice writers would do well to study the information revelation used here.
Besides, Sailor Moon is a classic. It inspired an untold number of shoujo series, so if you want to understand them, Sailor Moon will help.
On the other hand, the art is heavily stylized. The girls have very long legs, and there are very few backgrounds. The panels tend towards extreme zooms on faces; in fact, faces are often too big for their panels. The pages felt
I also had a tough time with Usagi’s personality. She’s as much of a ditz as she is in the anime series, and while she at least seriously acknowledges this defect near the end of the volume, her energetic cluelessness has all the charm of a clumsy puppy: cute in short doses, but a real pain in long stretches.
Overall, the first volume of Sailor Moon is a good example of contrasts. It’s gathered legions of fans, and stands as a true classic of its genre, but its appeal remains limited to that genre. It showcases the best and worst of the shoujo style.
This is the second part of my in-depth analysis of Hayao Miyazaki’s original manga Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind. You can go back to the first part.
Moving on to page 16, Miyazaki surprises us. The first panel shows just a column of light, a diagonal slash of some kind, and a ”SHOOM” sound effect. What’s going on?
Thanks to the slightly angled gutter, we’re drawn to the panel below, which reveals Nausicaä’s Mehve ascending vertically from a jet beneath it, startling the insects.
This is a bold move: showing us an action in isolation, followed by context.
Contrast this with the smooth action of the upper-right panel on page 17: the powerful explosion pushing Nausicaä forward, followed by Nausicaä on the right-hand side of the panel, the stress lines implying g-forces as we are pulled in the same direction as the Mehve.
Later in that page, Miyazaki half-fills a panel with an Ohmu’s black eye. Right next to it, Nausicaä murmurs, “His eyes are burning ruby-red with anger…” This telegraphs to the reader an important fact: a black eye means an angry Ohmu.
(Also note that the Ohmu is a ”him,” not an ”it.”)
Nausicaä’s mood then lightens to a surprising degree. Here is where our protagonist becomes a little moe, as she says: “That cry I heard…could it have been this Ohmu? Tee-hee…surely not! I’ll have to play a little rough, I’m afraid…”
She drops several strobe grenades, and we’re treated to Miyazaki’s masterful use of space: the flash highlights our heroine in the upper-left, and below her (literally under her wing) are the mysterious fleeing stranger. The Ohmu is just visible over the top of the flash, orienting the viewer in space.
The Ohmu screeches to a halt, its eyes white now, and Nausicaä uses a flute to draw the Ohmu back to the forest.
We then cut to the fascinating page 20, which rewards panel-by-panel analysis.
The first panel is a sweeping vista, showing a dune that stands before a large crevasse. The stranger from before is a tiny smudge, and Nausicaä is nowhere to be seen. It’s a foreboding and lonely image.
Below, we see Nausicaä gliding towards the stranger. She’s hanging off the bottom of the Mehve (telling us that the Mehve can be used this way as a glider). Miyazaki orients us to the two to show us that Nausicaä is coming to meet the stranger.
The following panel shows her feet hitting the ground, then the next is a very dynamic image of her braking in the sand and letting go of the Mehve, presumably letting it drift to the ground. This is confirmed in the following panel, where she runs towards the viewer, hands over her face, with the Mehve settling downwards near her.
Note the pacing of these panels. We’re watching Nausicaä in quick beats, without dialogue.
This is contrasted with the following panel, in which Nausicaä throws off her mask (the Mehve now in the sand behind her), revealing a pretty girl. She’s quite moe at this point, her mouth wide open in a delighted shout of ”Master Yupa!”
From here, we’re introduced to the two characters: Master Yupa is an old friend, judging from his reply “I’ve been saved by the little girl I used to carry!” Note how much is revealed here: he last saw Nausicaä when she was quite small, so he’s been gone for quite a few years.
We then learn more about Nausicaä, as she first encounters a jumpy foxsquirrel that we will soon know as Teto. The use of black and white here is masterful. Teto’s bite is accompanied by quite a lot of speed lines, on an otherwise calm and conventionally-drawn page. Our eyes are drawn to that particular panel, because of the dynamism of those lines, like a bull’s eye on a target.
Miyazaki uses black backgrounds for Master Yupa’s surprise and Nausicaä’s calm reaction. This harkens back to the psychic conversation between Nausicaä and the inhuman voice on page 11. While the moment clearly occurs in the physical world, the use of black emphasizes the personal, internal qualities of each character’s reaction. Nausicaä’s calm is intentional, coming from her character, and her thoughts are directed towards the foxsquirrel.
At the bottom of page 22, we get a dramatic moment, and our first divergence from the film. The ”Vai Emperor” has ordered the Valley to war, and Nausicaä herself will go. This is a dramatic contrast: all we’ve seen so far of Nausicaä paints her as a kind, nature-loving girl, a scientist who calms animals and lets herself be hurt by them. Now, she is being sent into a war.
Miyazaki must now resort to infodumps to explain a few facts about the world, particularly the Sea of Corruption and the Valley of Wind. Even so, he’s done an admirable job of not needing to up to this point.
Nausicaä and Yupa return to the Valley, and here Miyazaki’s art shifts again. As the villagers celebrate Yupa’s return, note how the panels are crowded with characters. These are very busy pages, suggesting several facts: the people here get along well, and they have little living space.
We get a few more hints about the population. Yupa asks for ”all the young maidens who had their hair put up while I was away.” This implies a coming-of-age ceremony. Nausicaä replies: “Very well. Nekari…Tocto…come forward!”
In all the time Yupa’s been away, only two girls have come of age. This is even made a joke: as they’re given wedding accoutrements, Uncle Mito remarks, “Hahaha…Now, then…for whom will you wear them?” And Nausicaä grows serious (accompanied by an internal black background) as laughter reverberates around the room.
This is reinforced in the following page, where we enter Lord Yupa’s thoughts. The cramped, busy pages full of people contrast with Yupa’s dark thoughts of the Valley’s decreasing population.
Page 26 cuts to a dramatic shot of a gunship. Note the viewing angle: near the ground, pointing up at the ship and the revolver-like nose, emphasizing its nature as a weapon. The dramatic lighting highlights this ship from below, throwing the surrounding equipment into darkness.
Let’s take a moment to look at that equipment. Nothing looks familiar; the unfamiliar shapes look like mushrooms, echoing the fungal plants of the Sea of Corruption. It’s a reminder of how far in the future we’ve come, that even technology mimics the alien plant life without.
On page 27, Nausicaä launches in the gunship, and we see an interesting transition in the middle of the page. We see the gunship flying towards the viewer with the castle in the background. The next panel reverses the perspective, viewing the gunship from King Jhil’s room as he and Lord Yupa discuss Nausicaä. Here, Miyazaki must resort to an infodump to explain Nausicaä’s position as next chieftain, and that she must pilot the gunship for the Torumekian empire. The infodump is presented by simply throwing speech bubbles next to a shadowed image of the castle. (Note that the castle, like the equipment in the gunship hangar, is a lumpy, fungoid structure.) The bottom few panels continues the conversation, with close-ups on Jhil and Yupa. This humanizes the conversation, so that we see the lowered-brow seriousness of both characters.
We cut, dramatically, to the gunship flying straight across the page. Nausicaä’s speed is contrasted with Jhil’s sedentary stillness. In fact, Nausicaä pushes the gunship’s engines to maximum and flies through a wreck (note how Miyazaki reinforces the constant presence of past civilizations’ wreckage). This flight is accomplished with a beautiful use of comic motion: Nausicaä staring forward in one panel, then speed lines fly through the wreckage and up, pulling the eyes into the same trajectory, up towards the top of the panel.
On the bottom of page 29 Nausicaä ruminates about the gunship, “Still, what an ugly ship it is. I prefer my Mehve. The gunship cuts through the wind, but the Mehve rides upon it.” This is an important element of Nausicaüa’s philosophy: rather than push ballistically through a problem, she prefers to ride naturally above it, Buddha-like.
The final panel uses an interesting bit of imagery. Nausicaä is clearly visible in the left-hand side of the panel, saying “That cry! Again!” The back half of hear head is thrown into shadow, along with the psychic exclamation “We will kill! We will kill them!” Moreover, her eyes are glancing behind her, at the words. It’s as though her body is divided in half, part receiving the message and part still pure.
Her reaction is interesting: she pulls the thought in on herself, holding it over her heart protectively as shafts of light burst all around her. This nearly costs her her life, as she is awoken by Teto screaming in her face; she has lost control of her Mehve.
She reacts by heading straight to the Sea of Corruption…wanting to save the person who must have angered the Ohmu.
Note how, on page 32, Nausicaä sees the troubled brig. Miyazaki gives us a huge vista, shafts of light shining down on the jungle below (reminscent of the light from the mental communication earlier). The brig is a smudge on the horizon, barely visible. In fact, my eye didn’t pick it out; it wasn’t until I saw the insect-covered brig in the lower panel that I connected it with the image above. We’re shown how much better Nausicaä’s eyes are than our own, with no dialogue needed.
The next few pages develop an action-adventure tone, as Miyazaki must provide world details (signal flags), share Nausicaä’s and Uncle Mito’s knowledge and experiences, and push the intensity of the brig’s danger. More on that in the next installment of this series.