Category Archives: Introspectives

Ghibli Challenge #4 – Whisper of the Heart

I’ll say it again: this movie is the best thing that has ever came of Studio Ghibli.

I say this for several reasons, but for a film that I’ve watched like a dozen times, it’s pretty amazing that I am still getting more out of it today, perhaps as much as I did years ago when I first laid eyes on it.

I mean, it captures so well a certain sort of Asian upbringing. Complete with idealized rebellion against the machine and exaggerated flirtation with future aspiration and kickstarting your dreams. It’s like what every Tiger Mom wishes for once they’ve leveled up to a certain level. How do you become an artisan? Or more importantly, how do you convince your parents about it?

That joke aside, another thing  that got me was during the entire time I was like “this girl is just like some kids on Twitter!” and the way they checkout-card stalk each other is like a low-tech cyberstalking. And Concrete Road–us being privy to an in-joke like that is miraculous script-writing. And then there was the sweet flirting and the usual nonsense. Then it came the low-tech version of NaNoRiMo. In a way I appreciate Shizuku’s no-nonsense approach. No fancy websites tweeting wordcounts, and she’s writing to test herself. Which is reason as any to burn a couple months away. Armed with a pencil and a pile of paper, she does something so many older, more resourceful people have failed.

Now that joke aside, I think all that is just to attest to the strange timelessness of a teenager’s malaise, and how things may be not so different in 2011 attests to Whisper’s gimmick-free look and its powerful narrative. It’s the best Ghibli film.

The fourth challenge is a part of an end-of-year festivity among some anime bloggers.  You can find out more about the Ghibli theatrical road show from GKIDS.


Year in Review: N-Listing

So, the tradition continues. 12 lists of 12 things. Some are ranked, others are not. One this year is not ranked but merely numerated.

Continue reading

Year in Review: The Test of Time Is the Best Test

How many 2011 anime do you still remember 6 months later? I probably won’t be remembering Mashiro Iro Symphony at all, until the next time we have a show that seems remarkably similar to, say, Hoshizora e Kakeru Hashi? It happens like every half a year. There’s a rhythm in which prior shows gets pitched against newer shows, serving to a similar audience but with its own creative twist. I mean I still don’t get why people think Mashiro Iro is better, to me it’s marginally better as an iterative production but nothing drastic.

[Must fight urge to make fun of Mashiro Ero Symphony]

But at the same time, there are shows that disrupt that rhythm. Madoka anyone? I think that show will stand against the test of time. Much better than, say, Shana Final, at least. Ugh. Would this franchise just kill itself already?

The way our collective memory works is tricky. After all somebody out there still likes Shana. I assume this is why they keep on making that. But can I say the same thing about, say, OreTsuba? That show definitely disrupted something fierce but I don’t think people liked it. It isn’t a product that hinged on creatively disrupting known qualities like genre conventions or expectations. OreTsuba is serious business. In fact it is probably my most favorite non-linear narrative in the TV anime format this year.

In light of that, to take a slightly different approach, maybe the test of time is like, whichever show that you can think about fondly after 6 months later. The collective memory is not forgetful enough to totally forget about things, let alone things the collective memory doesn’t want to remember. I mean there was this anime about a Moon Princess that I sorta liked. And speaking of Moon Princesses, there’s one on air now that has a tie-in to yet another anime that the collective memory doesn’t quite want to remember either, let alone the one not-on-the-air. But I suppose remembering one by seeing it now is how this game works.

Unfortunately for me I think about a lot of shows fondly; partly why I have seen them in the first place, you know?

But I do know I don’t think of Nichijou fondly; it’s more interesting as a meme factory. I think that is probably how a lot of people approach the anime version of Dantalian and Gosick–not as petri dishes for jokes but as character factory. I mean I think those two anime are pretty blatant example of loli pandering. I guess some people just get off on it. It’s the sort of anime that when you think back, they are pretty unremarkable besides their protagonists, and not for what they did but more for who they are even before you get through the first episode.

Which is kind of funny thing to consider for a year with Ro-kyu-Bu anime. By the way, that anime is totally just a normal sports drama. I like to watch one once in a while, and 69Bu scratched that itch–nothing more. And it’s already a lot–development-driven anime with a fairly tight focus on what actually happens. I suppose you can use it as a joke too. Well, okay, there’s some major seiyuu pandering going on there too. I totally bought their vocal album on that ground alone. It’s horrible.

Oh, right, Nichijou–I actually think it’s a pretty good anime. It just doesn’t pander to otaku at all, and while it can be funny it is kind of lame. By the way all 2011 anime that had sharks in it were great. I LOL’d. It is Shark Week all year long here. It helps when My Meat Chunk Can’t Be This Cute. Oh,  yeah, those OreImo True End episodes are 2011 too, right?

Aside: I could have swore that Lotte no Omocha reminds me of Nene. I think the reason is obvious but I don’t know if there are enough people watching and looking forward to Astarotte’s Toy in this fashion. I don’t think it is a good thing when the Gundam 00 movie reminded me of Indiana Jones #4. I guess it’s kind of a 2010 sort of thing too.

Lastly: Is this why when Guilty Crown relates to Code Geass, people react accordingly? Are we just puppets of our last season’s impression for this season’s new offering? Is Shu a tool? (Yes.) Are there any sharks? (No.)

Sharks would have drastically improved the show and Gai’s chances at winning.

Year In Review: Introduction & Challenge #1

2011 is a major year for me personally, some life-changing turning points… To you, it just means I have less free time than ever to do this stuff. Instead of writing 12 blog posts about the year in retrospect, I will blow my holiday vacation, buzz and tireless patience for large amount of moving traffic (vehicular or otherwise) in the cold for a personal challenge:

Twelve Ghibli theatrical screenings. 35 millimeter. 12/16 to 1/12.

I mean I don’t even know this “Twelve days of Christmas” thing. It is suppose to count up from 12/25 and not count down from 12/13, right? This way I kinda combine both. Sorry Shawn, but that $100 ROD Blu-ray box set is not worth as much as $100 in movie tickets for this fantastic opportunity, courtesy of the IFC Center and GKIDS.

I said 12 theatrical screenings because I’m not sure I’ll hit 12 different films. For sure I will try for Totoro, Kiki, Porco, Whisper, Ocean Waves, Nausicaa, Pompoko, and Only Yesterday. Maybe I will try for My Neighbor Yamada. I don’t know, I’ll play it by ear.

I remember someone said that the otaku is ultimately about exploiting nostalgia. I think I can see that in the case of the ideal otaku–not the western version of the term, but the Japanese salaryman who actually can afford owing a collection of anime on Blu-ray–where there is some childish fascination in which has grown into a consuming flame, tempered by the wall of paper-mache made up of not fiber, but societal expectations, pride, wishes of others, fear, and a sense of self. I think you can’t get more memory-trip than Ghibli; it’s the ultimate core of modern otakuism. I mean you can trace moe all the way to Nausicaa (and further back), amirite?

In light of that, I think I’ll write a few posts after all.

That Trouble Child

Summer is on its last legs. I find all this all too depressing; where did my August/September go? Where are my summertime memories for 2011? Looking back I think I kind of want to redo this year. There were a lot of opportunities that I could have capitalized on better, but all in all it wasn’t so bad that it leaves me with a sour taste in the mouth.

The strange cloud in my mind this morning is punctuated by this picture showing up on my feed.

I mean, it’s only meaningful because I miss watching the, er, bodacious little kid and her rag-tag gang of think-alikes. There’s a lot of stuff going on in my life right now but when that brisk weather hits the northeast it feels like some biological switch gets flipped a certain way, I go automatic into nostalgia mode regardless of what’s happening. So seeing that loli-face banner was almost timely.

I think this is why I envy not the gorgeous west coast weather at all. I want my four seasons.

It’s times like this that I thank the heavens and what’s on earth that enable my anime habit. I always kind of pride myself on at least being able to watch a good chunk of what is out there every season. To do that takes a lot of time, which basically means giving up my reading and gaming time, in the past 3 seasons. There were a glut of anime that just appealed to me. And when that spare time decreases (for whatever reason), there’s just not much left to give but to watch less. I have always resigned to the fact that the circumstances change, like the seasons, and invariably there would be bumps and mismatches in the rotating schedules of “how many shows I can follow at every given week” versus “how many shows I want to watch at every given week.” And so when I “drop” a show, it is often no fault of the show; it’s all on me.

Looking back at my old blog posts, I too find that often times it is because I really don’t want to write about something that doesn’t leave me with stuff to think about–I literally have nothing to write home about for the majority of anime that I end up watching. Plus a couple shows that are just challenging to write about, so I dare not. And that is not a fair litmus test of these shows and more of my inability and lack of will to write about them. It’s pretty clear that I prize anime first, blogging and analysis second. Or rather, they’re just natural extension of someone who is thinking about them and is extroverted enough to publish his soiled laundry.

It’s in tough or uncertain times that, like Manabi, you hold on to some precious concept that found a home and developed roots within your soul, that you rely on to get through those times. Manabi Straight’s story, to me, is still the standing example, in its gradient-hair glory, of the best stuff on earth. I just want to get that off my chest.

Waking Up From K-ON

This post is probably a K-ON spoiler, if that’s possible.

I really feel a connection with K-ON, especially with the way how K-ON season 2 ended, with its final (for now, anyways) school festival and that glorious afterglow. It’s like having the right amount of sourness along with something sweet, or perhaps better put, sweet sorrow that is Azusa’s farewell. Or was season two’s ending a goodbye to the rest of us? It’s this stuff that runs through my head when I punch away slowly at random keys, just unlocking yet another character’s entry in yet another soft-boiled image album track. Is Mio a Little Girl or is Hello Little Girl actually trying to be nu-gaze-ish? Did people who worked on the image songs for the series actually tried to inject something into the way the songs are arranged? I’m probably reading too much into it.

K-ON! Houkago Live aside, it’s getting to a point where an oversea fan’s interaction with the K-ON franchise is almost entirely within the commercial context. I think the least I could do to give the whole relationship is to write about it, to define it, to state the meaning it has given me. And when I realized this, it’s all really just sad.

It’s like reading about what Toyosaki blogged after the K-ON S2 live a couple months ago. It’s something pretty special for the tens of thousands who went, but in the end it’s just yet another anime-made-for-hire (albeit in the KyoAni way, which may not be the standard committee style, I don’t know). A piece of plastic or limited edition concert good is not going to love you back, although in this case a continuation of the manga (and inevitably, more anime) is probably as close as it gets to that.

Maybe this is when mining for sequels becomes a celebration rather than the milking of the loyal handful. It’s all in the little things, the details, that you can feel the love, or not.

Feinting sincerity aside, for some reason I feel the creators or some of the core people who had a hand in making K-ON the thing that it is also enjoyed that connection. It’s just that the way we interact with each other and with the franchise material is through the same bloodless machine of capitalism as one would with anything else that required you paying money. To that, the perhaps equally soulless doujin products that the wall booths sell at Comiket at least contain some traces of life despite the shallow, pornographic content (for those who fits the description). I guess we can do better if we look toward truly like-minded expressions in fandom, rather than the usual “let’s just draw what’s popular for a quick buck” kind of thing that prevails much too much these days.

Doujinshi aside (and its implications, worthy of further examination for sure), the only other thing over the years that I’ve settled on as worthy of keeping is to make some great memories. And I guess that meant I should have tried to go to the “Come With Me” live or at least, hope for a home video release. Well, making memories is not always possible, and often infrequent. Perhaps that’s why I value them?

I might have sounded unappreciative about the state of the anime fan overseas when it comes to at least paying for anime locally that I can enjoy, but I do appreciate all the work and passion that went into the stuff now that I own (legit or otherwise). I even appreciate those expensive imports with English subs (and dubs at times) on them nowadays. It’s just that compared to fans in the ’80s and ’90s, the aspects of fandom that went beyond the buying and selling of anime hasn’t really improved by a whole lot. If anything the biggest change is how we’re approaching a saturation point in terms of anime cons (at least in North America) that are big enough to provide another way to connect creators, creations and fans. It’s still one (and more) layer of crud, of drama, and what have you. But that might be more “human” than the well-oiled marketing machine that the Japanese deal with, because at least “they’re here because we love them.”

It’s kind of funny to look at K-ON S2 in this context. I bring my baggage to the show (don’t we all?) and look at it from that angle: what are concerts, right? Aren’t they just yet another venue, another framework in terms of interactions between the band and the audience? It’s been way too long since recorded music has changed the way we experience music, that this human element of simply playing a song adds so much more impact to someone who didn’t grow up with that kind of lo-tech intimacy with music. And I grew up with some experience with music in a live setting (albeit in a typical Asian-American way). But it’s not just me of course. It’s the same reason why Azusa cries when the girls played Tenshi ni Fureta yo! It’s the same reason why some teared up when they watch that. It’s the same reason why it is actually so powerful, that it has already transcended the context of music.

Which is probably why people make novels and movies about friendship and memories in high school, and not (so much) about the nature of music and the evolution of it and the context in which it alters lives, flow of money, and the way people view the world. But that’s just one drop in a large bucket of human relationships and experiences, in the way we relate to each other and the things around us. It’s just that in K-ON’s case, there’s a really gorgeous view from the cliffs of meta, and it’s too bad so few of us get to enjoy this animated adventure from this vantage point.

SaiMecha Nonsense, Remembering Mechanical Designs

This is a neat idea, but I don’t have time for yet another one of these. It does presents the opportunity to make me feel slightly excited yet largely apathetic, a “what do I feel in your shoes” moment for my mecha otaku counterparts, coming from someone who can be moe-obsessed at times. Given that I just don’t have time for this stuff, I won’t be emailing in a nomination or anything.

That said, mecha is still the root of my anime fandom, so it’s a good time to do a short list. The very first anime that I was a fan of was no other than Go Nagai’s Mazinger Z, and there’s some pretty glorious stuff from that show. In fact from a design perspective the various iteration of the Z has stood pretty well against the test of time. Or maybe because they keep on releasing slightly redesigned versions of it.

I think the fact that Mazinger threw a rocket punch or did super kicks and shot beams out of its chest was all pretty cool to a 6yo, but at the time I was more infatuated with its wings and Aphrodite A’s famous boobie missiles. (I guess I was a moe fag from a young age?) More relatistically, the wing attachment was simply the coolest thing ever (at 6yo), and missiles are obviously weapons of the future. I mean look at how old Mazinger Z is, and we are barely getting started on actual laser weapons in field testing, with some prototype cannons fired from naval vessels. I suppose this is just to say way back then, I was more a wargame/military weapons boy than a pure fantasy person.

Coincidentally I hated how swords are used in giant robot shows. I mean, dude, these are super cool weapons of destruction from the future! Why are they using stuff we stopped using, like, 100 years ago?

Strangely enough, that impulse or leaning doesn’t push me towards “real robot” over “super robot” when the divide was made clear 10+ years later. If anything, how “unrealistic” real robots were became a major turn-off. (The Aestavalis system’s focus over logistics was the only one that pulled it off in my eyes in a convincing manner.) When it comes to anime and mecha, I was mostly a student of design and of setting elements. And when it comes to sexy mecha designs, there were very few that can rival Shoji Kawamori’s work in anime. Macross-style folding for FTL travel? Yea I can get behind that. Variable fighters? Sexy.

The first Macross mecha/spacecraft that I took to was probably Focker’s VF-1. I mean, it’s basically the F-14 in an alternative future. Nevermind that the F-14 is this aging aircraft that should have been retired from the US Navy 10 years before it actually did, it was pure, jet-engine-grade fantasy fuel. I didn’t think much of the Guardian form–I think at first I didn’t quite get the point of it–I mean, it’s a jet with legs? Things like vectored thrust were not entirely clear to me, in the early 90s. Or for that matter, how the basics of flights like how attack and lift worked with each other. Nonetheless, the swept wings, the transformation from plane to robot, the toys that did the same, the “calves” of the ship that was part of a vector thrust thing, the lines and curves, oh my.

I suppose it is a blessing in disguise that I was not well-informed, so something like Macross’s complexity is enough to pull the wool over my childish eyes. At least I was able to ignore the fact that it had arms, as it was at least justifiable in terms of having hard mount points that were on a robotic arm given the range of motion a Valk had.

Speaking of arms and curves and Macross, I was a big fan of those VR-052Fs in Mospeada too, although I was more taken with the way how action scenes and battles were depicted, combining the fact that it is a motorvehicle and a robot. In fact I didn’t get the same kind of feeling until way later that I finally got to see Priss & the Hardsuit girlsShinji Aramaki hit a good spot. It was not the first “moe moe” fusion, as it was later coined, but if sexy models and car ads were like bread and butter, Aramaki’s motorcycle-inspired designs were the equivalent of buttered croissants. It is about mastering streamlined curves, and express loudly through design the function of things it may do.

I think as I got older, my fervor for mecha slowly dropped over time. I think part of the reason was simply because there weren’t a lot of variety. I could never really get into gunpla largely because they mostly looked alike, and between the variants of the same models and how the same model would get different releases based on grades it just kind of turned me off. Other franchises didn’t help much; I’ve definitely watched a lot more anime since then but fewer mecha were as awesome as how child perceived coolness for the very first time.

That said, there were plenty of interesting stuff, ranging from Escaflowne’s pulley-driven artifacts, CLAMP’s crystalline beasts, and even occasionally invoking from the best, such as the first scenes of Gundam 00. Maybe I just got too old for Gundam Wing and just right for Syd Mead: Turn-A featured innovative designs, just none very awesome . Maybe I was too young to hold the classic GM or the Guntank dearly in my heart (although the GM did age gracefully, perhaps much more so than anything else in UC): I appreciate the variety, even if to me it is not diverse enough. It’s good, but not moe, you know?

I do like a strong sense of industrial design; but unlike many others like myself I am not overly taken with things like, say, the glorified forklift from Alien 2. Still, I was in utter delight when Railgun featured one of the best take on the forklift weapon with those sexy grapple rocket punches (did it ever get a name? I guess). Tethered! I wish I can take the GAMA home. The MAR hardsuits were already pretty neat (but they were more like the tepid oasis lost in a sea of sand–yes, I am a hardsuit fan, no there are not enough hardsuits anywhere) but that final boss thing takes the cake. Sure beats a weird alien fetus anyways.

Speaking of Railgun, it was probably the last time I felt that dissonance when everybody else watching the show were busy oogling at middle schoolers, and other than Mii I could care less what they were really doing. It’s a solid show that somehow featured something everyone can appreciate (a cool final boss) but that was not what people were looking for.

I’m just limiting myself to humanoid stuff. I have no idea if it counts, but many of the Guild ship designs from Last Exile were superb. Ao no Rokugo’s submarine is something I want one for myself as well. I will probably never be able to afford a replica of ND-001 or any of her sister ships. The Kildren fighters in The Sky Crawlers were one of a kind. Macross Frontier reinvented the mothership/carrier concept with Macross Quarters, and it now is one of my favorite spacecrafts in general. Well, that is technically a humanoid mecha too, although I don’t think of it that way per se.

Let’s just stop here. Because I can go on…and on and on. I don’t really keep up with the newest development in the anime mecha world, nor do I want to. All my database-animal receptors for mecha are present and working, and that’s the thing that truly matters.