Archive for the ‘Attentive Anime’ Category
Infinite Ryvius fascinates me.
Its creators set themselves a few major challenges:
- Can we tell a story with a very large cast of characters?
- Can we make a ”hard SF” anime with teenage protagonists?
- Can the ”submarine chase” approach to conflict work as a series?
The staff created a perfect setting for that challenge: a few hundred years in the future, 500 teenagers live and learn on a space station that amounts to a Vo Tech for space workers. A terrorist event kills all the adults and forces the trainees to evacuate to a military research ship that was hidden in the middle of the station. They then must attempt to get to civilization.
So: all your instructors are dead, and you have to work a completely unfamiliar ship and keep everyone fed and relatively happy.
Infinite Ryvius has several dozen named, main characters. This is kept manageable using a surprisingly effective technique of division.
The series begins by focusing on a group of half a dozen friends, all of them “small fry” on the station. We’re then introduced to the top class of seniors; once the instructors die, this class becomes responsible for managing the other 490 students. Later, a coup is staged by a new gang of teens.
Hisashi Hirai’s character designs help tremendously. Much as some folks hate his later designs post Gundam SEED, the designs here are less flashy and highly distinctive. When I look at the cast, while I can’t remember every name, I easily remember who’s who.
Infinite Ryvius establishes a hard SF setting, but its characters are teenagers thrown into an extreme situation.
This works surprisingly well. The characters have to deal with a situation that feels real. They aren’t developing superpowers; their food is rationed. It’s these prosaic concerns–well, along with the very real possibility of death–that drives them.
The large cast helps. One girl, Faina, is a member of a New Age-ish religion that teaches detachment. I was fascinated to watch the catalytic action as other characters reacted to her viewpoint. Several other characters served as similar catalysts for other characters. Heck, a lot of these teenagers just don’t like each other.
And all this is set in an unforgiving environment. If the ship is hit and a deck is damaged, teenagers die.
Which has lead some to label Infinite Ryvius as “Lord of the Flies in space.” I disagree. Lord of the Flies is about the complete disintegration of civilization once the trappings of civilization are removed. In Ryvius, the characters all work very hard to maintain civilization. Indeed, life aboard the Ryvius takes a fascist turn at one point in a desperate attempt to keep things ordered.
Das Boot In Space
Meanwhile, various military spaceships are sent out to stop the Ryvius. This leads to various tense battle sequences, but they are far more similar to submarine warfare than the exciting military fights in Gundam or Macross.
Because, frankly, that’s more realistic. There’s no point in getting close to an enemy when you can launch missiles from miles away. This is complicated by the Geduld (a sea of plasma that erupted from the sun and forms a dense cloud throughout the solar plane), but the overall style of combat remains: enclosed spaceships pummeling each other at distance.
This also works surprisingly well. Because the series generally focuses on issues of claustrophobic crowding and tense interpersonal conflicts, taking the same approach to spaceship combat feels natural.
Overall, I’m stunned that Ryvius accomplishes as much as it does. We’re lucky to have an anime that does one thing differently; Ryvius does several, and does them well.
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.
I first heard of Satoshi Kon from Saalon, who urged me to see an anime film called Perfect Blue.
- It was a weird, psychological head trip.
- I’d stumbled on a few of its production cels online, and they included naked female breasts. So, I thought the film may have been
It wasn’t porn, of course. It was a brilliant, complex film about identity and obsession. Its confused
I learned later that Kon worked his way up through the industry’s ranks, as animator on Roujin Z and writer on Mamoru Oshii’s Memories, before making Perfect Blue (which was also his own story) in 1998.
His next film, Millennium Actress (2001), was significantly more accessible. It focused on an aging actress and her interviewers, who find themselves reliving her roles and personal life as she recounts them. It’s more sweet than bittersweet, tinged with the increasing realization that she missed a lot of opportunities. The movie is a fractal, exploring history and entertainment and real life as they reflect and influence each other.
He then made, of all things, a Christmas story. Tokyo Godfathers is even sweeter than Millennium Actress, as it follows three homeless friends who find an abandoned baby over Christmas. It’s about family and the choices we make. For a film with none of the fantastic,
Then came Paranoia Agent, a 13-episode TV series from 2004 that contained all the ideas Kon couldn’t fit into his films. Here, Kon weaves something akin to an anthology series, as most episodes focus on an individual character’s reaction to a common social event. How well, we wondered, would a film director translate his ideas to an episodic TV series? Perfectly well, we discovered.
And four years ago, in 2006, we got Paprika, a film adaptation of a novel that I’ve heard inspired Kon throughout his career. I think Paprika is his
Satoshi Kon died this week, at the age of 46. He was working on a children’s film, The Dream Machine. The head of Madhouse, which is producing it, stated that the studio will do “whatever it takes” to finish and release the film.
We’ve lost a man who made the most interesting, mature films in animation. His movies were as complicated as Oshii’s, as beautiful as Ghibli’s, and as entertaining as Spielberg’s.
May we remember his legacy forever, and may others pick up his torch.
Every teenager should watch this show.
What makes it Attentive Anime?
Boogiepop Phantom re-tells several stories in the ”Boogiepop” psychological horror novel series. It’s colored (almost) entirely in sepia tones. There are over a hundred named characters in its 13 episodes.
This is not your average anime.
Boogiepop Phantom is about adolescence. It’s about the beliefs we form–healthy and unhealthy–and the consequences thereof.
Each episode focuses on a particular view of the world. Some lead to early deaths. Many lead a protagonist to realize that their precious worldview is utterly inadequate. More crushing, some protagonists never realize it.
Implications / Thoughts about the depth of its premise
I have to call out specific episodes:
- A girl works hard at playing the piano at a professional level. Her parents are happily sacrificing to pay for her lessons. Her hopes are dashed, and her reaction is typically extreme for an adolescent, and nonetheless deeply sad. Better, the show demonstrates the destructiveness of her reaction by showing us her reaction’s results. We see the pain that grows out of that decision.
- Another girl is so desperate to grow up that she throws away the stories she’s written, which are her only personal, creative outlet. Ironically, she turns into a child–emotionally stunted.
- A shy boy receives the gift of telepathy. He hears his friends…judging him constantly.
Perhaps appropriately, Boogiepop Phantom has only the phantom of a plot arc. The events of the series do absolutely lead to a climax and a finale, but this is a show about its characters and their viewpoints.
Moreover, while fantastic elements weave through the show, the few recurring characters exist to protect the world from those elements. There’s an interesting shot in the final episode, in which the characters are taking a break from their high school graduation ceremony. They stand next to a balcony, and the two protectors stand on either side of a girl who has no clue what’s going on. It’s a powerful image: ordinary and extraordinary people, surrounding the innocent world to protect it.
This is no ordinary show.
Director, Creator, and Scenario Writer: Katsuhiro Otomo
Studio: Tokyo Movie Shinsha
Akira‘s characters are surprisingly childish. The focal characters–Kaneda, Tetsuo, and the rest of their gang–don’t think about the future, and the few characters who do are trying to prevent it. Most of the characters focus exclusively on the ”here and now.”
Given Asian philosophy towards “living in the moment,” this is pregnant with irony. Here we see the other side of that coin: sticking one’s head in the sand.
As a movie made in the late 1980′s, near the peak of the Japanese bubble economy, this no doubt resonated with both young adults who grew up with that Me Generation attitude, and the older adults suspicious of it (increasingly so, as signs grew of the bubble bursting).
So, Akira‘s characters live in a
Ultimately, the story centers on the consequences of an empty,
Everyone thought it was funny when he broke a rival gang’s arm or busted in an enemy’s head, so now that his power is increased by 100-fold, why not increase the violence by the same ratio?
What is it about?
Testuo and his gang of high
The gang shrugs this off, but Tetsuo’s changed. He’s already been established as the most emotionally volatile of the group (perhaps this made him most sensitive to the child’s contact), and he grows increasingly distracted. He begins to hallucinate. The child has given him strange psychic powers.
He then begins to use and abuse these powers, killing at first in
Tetsuo moves through two broad stages of emotional reaction: fright followed by a power trip. Again, very childish.
Oddly, it’s one of the other gang members, Kaneda, who takes it upon himself to first rescue Tetsuo, then stop him. This develops into a wild arms race, where even a
Unfortunately, the movie’s ending collapses. The titular character Akira returns,
Um, yes you are. How nice for you. If only we didn’t need a deus ex machina to arrive there, and if only that had occurred as a result of your actions. And if only the audience didn’t thoroughly hate you by the end of the movie. Why, exactly, should we care that you are now your own universe?
When I think of Akira, one of the first images that leaps to my mind is the final, grotesque transformation sequence, as Tetsuo’s body expands into a monstrous carnival of oversized organs, engulfing bystanders. At least one character is crushed to death by his expanding body. It’s disgusting and shocking, and an excellent metaphor for Tetsuo himself–always grasping for more, not caring for who gets crushed in the mean time.
Besides the fluid animation and grotesque imagery, the next most shocking element of Akira is its music. Wavering between
Akira’s place in anime
Akira‘s important for its origins and impact. It began as a literally epic manga, nearly 2,000 pages long, which was already very popular when the movie was made. Moreover, the movie was given a large budget, and was animated using traditional,
More importantly, Akira was wildly popular, setting attendance records for animated films in Japan. It made over 6 billion yen on an investment of about 1.1 billion. It proved that money invested in anime would pay off.
This opened the doors for investment in anime. The vast amount of anime produced in the 1990′s can trace much of their financial investment back to the success of Akira (and, thus, the American anime fandom which would go on to subsidize the Japanese industry, which “grew up” on the anime of the 1990′s).
[Note: This is the first in a series I'm planning about anime that contains themes and concepts a little deeper than average. Shows that make you think, at least a little.]
Director: Koichi Mashimo
Scenario Writer: Kazunori Ito
Studio: Bee Train
What’s it about?
.hack//SIGN‘s lineage is part of its appeal, and part of its downfall. .hack itself is a sprawling story told across multiple media: video games, anime, manga, light novels, etc., all of them dealing with an online fantasy game called The World. Every work in .hack tells its own story, and the stories provide context for each other; a character who appears briefly in a later work may be the hero of a previous one. The game itself is basically World of Warcraft, set in a near future of functional virtual reality helmets, so the experience is very direct.
What makes .hack//SIGN Attentive Anime?
And that’s what sets .hack//SIGN apart from other
The central mystery is this: a shy teen character, Tsukasa, can’t log out of the game. It’s like he’s been downloaded into the game itself, which is of course theoretically impossible.
That in itself is one of the nice bits in the show: the creators clearly understand the technical limitations of massively
Tsukasa himself is a piece of work. He’s a stereotypical teen; sullen, frustrated, and withdrawn. As the other characters make clear, he can’t make progress until he decides to open up to the other characters. He’s fundamentally disconnected, and this is a show about the need for connection.
Note: I use the word “he” even though Tsukasa’s real gender is an ongoing point of debate among the characters. And, really, in an online world, you can’t know. (A fact underlined in a later .hack series, when a character is lured into a trap by two cute girls who are actually played by boys.)
Two players in particular are trying to help him: Mimiru, a teen girl with a quick temper but a soft spot for Tsukasa, and Bear, a
Implications/Thoughts about the depth of its premise
If .hack//SIGN has a main theme, it is identity.
- Tsukasa has spent so much time in the game that he doesn’t know who he is anymore.
- Mimiru doesn’t know why she should care about Tsukasa, but does nevertheless. She’s experiencing the maternal instinct for the first time, and it surprises her.
- B.T. doesn’t care about much of anything, and has to confront this when surrounded by people who do.
- Subaru, the head of the Crimson Knights, is paraplegic–but can walk and swing an axe in the World. The game gives her new freedoms.
- Crim, a
long-timeplayer of the World who often advises the other characters, is a corporate warrior who uses the game to relax during business trips. In the physical world, he’s a responsible businessman; in the World, he’s a distant, disconnected wanderer of the empty areas in the game.
About halfway into the show, Mimiru decides to meet with Tsukasa just to talk. Tsukasa’s been notoriously flaky, but she’s determined to do it anyway (again, her maternal instinct flaring). We spend most of an episode watching her, as she waits patiently by a small stone outcropping. Tsukasa eventually shows up–hours late–and is shocked to find her there. She
The resulting conversation is awkward and ultimately goes nowhere. Tsukasa eventually leaves. But it’s his first realization that someone cares, and will go out of their way to be with him. It’s his first turning point on the road to connection.
However, the moment that stands out most to me occurs when Tsukasa is “rebooted,” an agonizing experience that causes his identity to disperse and knit itself back together. This occurs inside a disconnected pocket of the World, where he is completely alone. He crawls over to a stuffed bear nearby, and absently picks at the eye of the bear. We cut away, and later return to find that the eye is gone but Tsukasa’s still picking. We cut away again, and when we return much of the bear’s face is gone.
He’s still picking.
The series excels at these little moments, telling us through expression and action a character’s inner thoughts.
I also remember the ending, because it comes as a shock — the plot isn’t resolved. In fact, the last shot shows the characters launching themselves at a new enemy.
This is the downfall of .hack//SIGN — it’s meant to set up the plot of the console games. Indeed, the final shot of the anime shows the characters launching themselves at a new enemy.
But the real story of .hack//SIGN lies in the characters. They all go through their pain and growth over the 26 episodes of the series, and by that final shot, they are where they need to be. As frustrated as I am by the ending from a story perspective, I’m completely content from a character perspective.