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The Wu-Tang Clan created a unique sound in the 90s by sampling old kung fu movies into violent but passionate hip-hop lyrics — there was a combination of the east and west that was slightly more celebratory than the other east/west mashup where 90s rap is concerned. This fusion of martial arts’ philosophical themes and styles with the poetic and hard-hitting music creates a fascinating aesthetic that’s sustained a multitude of titles since. We’re finally seeing a major, mainstream entry in this legacy, with directorial guidance from the RZA himself — an expert in martial arts films and no stranger to the movie industry.

If you want to know what to expect with The Man with the Iron Fists or just want to see where the RZA is coming from, check out the following…

Samurai Champloo

This doesn’t have direct involvement from the RZA, but director Shinichiro Watanabe is familiar with combining a distinct musical style with specific film genres. Here it’s chambara film and hip-hop, with a killer opening song and frequent, kinetic action scenes. Champloo is a very good anime series but suffers from Watanabe’s own filmography — his previous Cowboy Bebop is considered to be the greatest anime series of all time. When you follow that with a very good anime — well, you can do the math. The series is consistent, dramatic, and frequently humorous. The characters are fun, and the overall feel is hip and stylish. The ending song is also great.

Shogun Assassin

This is one of the few movies where the English dub is actually mandatory. If you see it in the original language track you’ll miss the dialogue that the GZA sampled into various instrumentals on Liquid Swords. It’s small wonder why this film made such an impact on the Wu-Tang founder — it’s a strange little gem, completely unafraid of excessive sprays of blood and even violence against women: the kind that might make you cringe, but it’s all in good fun. And what’s more fun than seeing a badass baby riding around in a baby cart built of weapons with his stoic samurai dad? The ultimate family movie. It’s actually an edit of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub movies, so it takes all the action bits, and leaves out assumedly plenty of story. The Lone Wolf manga was penned by Kazuo Koike, author of among other things, Lady Snowblood, the adaptation of which had a major influence on the next on the list…

Kill Bill

Yep, that’s him alright. An alarming deletion of scene from Part II, where Bill fights this let’s say, Dynamite, Samurai

The RZA scored this, the original ‘two tickets, one movie,’ dealio back from when we didn’t know about a Harry Potter 7 or Twilight 4. Luckily this is one of Tarantino’s best, a balls-insane mashup of Italian westerns, Shaw Brothers kung-fu, samurai epics, and the gorier pieces of Japanese cinema a la Fukasaku and Miike. The Man with the Iron Fists is being produced by Tarantino, so I imagine the RZA will be benefitting here from an established creative relationship, as he does consider the great genrebuster a mentor. It might also, however, be like Frank Miller coming off of Sin City with The Spirit. Let’s hope not.

Afro Samurai

I’ve only seen the first episode. Interesting, but I haven’t heard great things about it. This is probably more hip-hop than samurai, if Champloo was more samurai than hip-hop, but I’ve never heard anyone call it better than its Japanese counterpart.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Before the RZA’s directorial debut, Ghost Dog was definitely the quintessential Wu-Tang movie. It features Forest Whitaker as a Mafia hit man who lives by the code of the samurai. It’s a mostly tacit lifestyle, filled with night-driving and hanging out with the odd gallery of friends he amasses in a French ice cream truck guy and a scholarly little girl. It is a lifestyle punctuated by violence nonetheless, and the action in this movie is sparse but effective, particularly with Ghost Dog’s first kill.

Ghost Dog ‘sheathes’ his silenced pistols much in the way a samurai would a sword, and practices martial arts on the lonely New York rooftops, up there with the pigeons, his preferred mode of communication with the outside world. This is a quirky if uneven film, funny in places and dark in others, but overall an iconic example of the gangsta/samurai aesthetic, and proud piece in a legacy following films like Le Samourai and those of Kurosawa — it isn’t revision so much as it is celebration.

Celebration I’d say is a key theme. There’s an appreciation of many cultures, and a tolerance of such things that’s unprecedented in violent macho movies. Ghost Dog is very in tune with his inner spirit, and is able to communicate with his best friend the ice cream guy by pushing through the language barrier — it’s a deeper connection. The most telling scene is when the ice cream guy, fascinated by a man building a boat, yells down from a rooftop in French: “That’s incredible! How are you gonna get that out?” and gets “I don’t understand, but I have to get back to work!” as a response, in Spanish. The ice cream guy smiles and Ghost Dog nods, walks off.

This embracing of other people and foreign cultures is a cornerstone of this ‘subgenre,’ and I think there’s a lot to be gained in blending cultures, mixing philosophies and aesthetics to create modern mythology in film and music.

The RZA, who scored Ghost Dog, does appear in this film, credited as the “Samurai in Camoflague,” and though his scene is brief, it is perhaps the most appropriate role for him. Better at least, then the crackhead who gets killed in American Gangster. We’ll see truly how his acting skills (among other things) shake out on the 2nd of next month, but I have high hopes. He’s such a cool guy; it’d suck to see his movie fare poorly.

Oh, and the Italian gangsters in this movie are just crazy. If nothing else, watch this movie for them. They are not unlike the depiction of cosa nostra in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

So that should give you a general idea — these various titles the with direct involvement of the RZA, or that follow his approach to genre, are the Wu-Tang aesthetic and philosophy manifest in film and TV. The ultimate piece will be The Man with the Iron Fists, and if Ghost Dog and Kill Bill were the RZA’s film background, he’s in good shape.

Well shit — you see that picture with the eyeball!

This is a type of racism.

10. Trek/LOTR: The False Empire

Personally I have nothing against hardcore fans of Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings because I don’t know any. But when I say the word, “Fan Convention,” you probably picture what you’ve seen on TV, the very stereotyped image of fat guys dressed up like Klingons, with the forehead and everything, or cute chicks in elf costumes (booth babes) paid to solicit sex appeal. Let’s focus on the fat guy though.

Thing about fans of Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings is they are what we think of when we think “uncool nerd.” Nerds today are cool, for whatever reason, but these guys are the traditionalists. They got heart. But they’re parody-magnets, and reflexively self-deprecating.

9. The Internet

This one would be #1 but it’s too broad. Let me specify. These are the guys who both attempt to get very high ratings on YouTube comments, and cannot stand it when people attempt to get very high ratings on their YouTube comments. These can be the most spiteful, bigoted individuals who form a mass collective of the faceless, shrouded and shielded in the armor of anonymity. It’s an old criticism, but these people have yet to stop.

8. Non-Conformists

This relates to #2 on this list. When there’s a big popular thing out, where right now it’s The Hunger Games and Twilight, there are people who will love them, and people who will refuse to touch them. The camps are set, and historically it’s always been this way. There’s a certain phobia people have about popular things, about maybe ‘selling out’ or ‘if you can’t beat em, join em!’ as if this was some sort of competition.

7. Ex-Star Wars

Being more of an Indiana Jones guy myself, I could recognize but not empathize with the Tragedy of Darth Vader, that is, the downfall of the Star Wars trilogy duology. Especially since the last live-action Star Wars film to be released (not re-released) is easily my favorite. 1999 was a crazy year for Star Wars fans, who bought tickets for Wing Commander just to see the trailer for The Phantom Menace, and then leave before Wing Commander started. But then, you know what happened. I think Spaced put the post-Phantom Menace angst the best (“Jar-Jar makes the Ewoks look like fucking Shaft!”) and it touched on that very real nerve in pop culture.

But it’s been so long that they’ve re-released Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, in 3D, yet in that time the fire has only grown, as Lucas has continued to make bad decision after bad decision and care only about technology and the Clone Wars, but I think I’ve personally had enough. Extreme hatred is of course a measure of passion, and Star Wars has elicited great passion over its many years in existence, but I don’t know. Lucas is a businessman first, having long since given up on being an art film director, and focusing on moving the franchise sideways, infinitely sideways. We won’t see any proper sequels, we won’t see that live-action TV series. Not in his lifetime, unfortunately.

6. Arcade Fire

I’ve never heard Arcade Fire’s music, but I know that fans of alternative indie-rock all seem to like Arcade Fire. But at this point, they probably diss on Arcade Fire because it’s old. That’s the beef I got with fans of that type of music. I’ve found that these guys are really sensitive about their fandom (like all fans), with the whole “I liked that band before they were cool” thing. Ownership of what’s fanned over (fawned over, equally applicable) is always uncomfortable, because no one person can stake a claim to what they’re into. This isn’t just something that reccurs within fans of this obscure type of music, who probably resent the movies Drive and Scott Pilgrim for opening up all sorts of weird genres to a broader audience, but in movies too, where for me it’s the most troubling.

Some people, and I’ve been guilty of this, don’t seem to get that more people experiencing what you like is good — unless #9 on this list plays into it. I would love to discuss all things Alien Quadrilogy with a fellow nerdlet, but then again, I would probably go seething if some fool rolled up on me and was like “I’m a huge fan of science-fiction… because of David Lynch’s Dune…”

5. Cinephiles

I don’t want to hear your crap about whatever obscure movie from the mid-60s in France (the only time/place good movies came out of) or theories or movements because it’s all garbage and get out. I think the real problem I have with movie superiority is trashing on ‘lesser’ films, which typically are those directed by Michael Bay. I’m not too keen on Transformers, but Michael Bay has a solid eye for visuals and action. He doesn’t subscribe to auteur theory, because that theory is actually horseshit.

The thing about people who delve into the obscure is that they do just that. In an Age of the Internet anybody can know anything at anytime. In a week I can learn a whole lot about… this insect. But I can’t waddle up to you the next day and be like, “The dung beetle is … and that’s fascinating because … significance,” because you could just as easily sling trivia about… this car.

4. Whedonites

What’s worse, people who love Joss Whedon, or people who hate Joss Whedon? I cannot decide. I’m a fan of Firefly, and I greatly enjoyed Dr. Horrible, but I’m not a real reader of comics, and I’ve only seen a few episodes of Buffy, so while I like Joss Whedon, I also tire of his quirks. But I’m talking about the people who don’t tire of his quirks, and specifically I’ve had two college professors profess their love for Buffy — one going so far as to say that it’s the most important TV show in its time — which to me is crazy. Does it piss me off? Of course not, but I’m aware that high passions for things generate all sorts of heat. This is Whedon’s year too — we’ll see what happens for the dude.

3. Video-Gamers

There’s so many layers to this one; how do we approach it? Most recently there was the Mass Effect 3 kerfuffle that spawned an irritating meme, throughout time (since mid-2000s) we’ve had ‘those 12 year old kids on XBL,’ and the persistent image of the gamer as an immature loser ‘livejournaling from his mom’s basement.’ Video-games have definitely gotten cooler and sexier and all that, but children do make up a majority of the audience — just walk down any video-game aisle of your local Bestbuy or Circuit City (?) and take a gander at all the blood-soaked, assault-rifle toting heroes of war, standing over the conquered Arabs or Aliens plastered on box after box.

Games like Heavy Rain and BioShock do attempt to legitimize the medium, but as long as vdeo-gamers will be predominantly kids… they’ll stay at #3. I hate kids.

2. Trenders

I guess another term for these would be like, “Mainstream Fans,” which might sound bitchy on my part, but hear me out. There are passionate fans of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, no doubt, but these things are so popular that you’ll get two types of non-fans: those who read or watch to join in on the conversation and keep up, and those who really get into it and then decide it’s uncool when everybody else has. They’re the real killers of these franchises (remember Eragon? Artemis Fowl?) although I’m sure quality of product plays a part.

When I was younger I always felt that Metallica would never die because while it was popular, it was never really like the biggest thing. That was always for like N Sync and Lady Gaga, so they could have their corner and keep it. In time of course I’d come to understand to some degree the complexities of the music industry, but I think the principle applies here. The Hunger Games unfortunately will fall hard, because it flies high right now. If I picked up The Da Vinci Code today, or hell, possibly even The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, I’d probably get laughed at for being behind on the times.

I’ll stick with my Philip K. Dick, although he’s starting to get really popular. That makes me so mad (#6).

1. Otakus

Well here we have the big one, the great godfathers of all fans and nerds. To explain, the ‘otaku’ is the term Americans use to describe American fans of Japanese anime & manga first and foremost, but also of Japanese culture. Otakudom is a scary thing, often synonymous with ideas such as the notorious and nefarious ‘furries,’ who often believe they are fantasy monsters born in the incorrect, human bodies.

This is only one example of why anime fans are so reviled by fans of anime and people who have tertiary knowledge of this culture — there’s also the anime/manga itself, which are mediums rife with tentacle porn, little girl porn, demon porn, alien porn — you get the picture. It’s weird stuff, the stuff that makes Akira look downright western. I’d recommend podcasts like Anime World Order or Fast Karate for the Gentleman for more information on the weirdness of anime. They’re fans, but also normal people, so they can comment on all the weirdness with a relatable voice.

The Otaku culture is one that’s maybe misunderstood, I don’t know. I do know that I would never, ever want to visit an Otakon or anything like that because… furries, man. I think American culture is a little hard on flamboyance, and I can understand that to an extent. I don’t appreciate the stereotypical ‘flamboyant gays’ when I see them because they, you know, perpetuate a dangerous stereotype, but these are just kids having fun. They do, frequently, take that fun too far, but fandom is a celebration of the things you like with people who share that interest. The Internet’s made that easier, and even if it’s caused a whole hell of a lot of hell, we got something good out of it. They did, at least.

So interweaved are elements as science, philosophy, cyberpunk, police procedural narratives, conspiracy, comedy, and action, the work blends conventions to invisibility just like the technological binding holding each characters’ spirits in a bodies. No saying that any of these elements is up to the par set by succeeding entries in the series, but Shirow’s original was the first, and the first to do it right. This in itself is compelling; from what I understand of the man’s earlier works, The Ghost in the Shell came out of nowhere in terms of pure Shirowesque creativity. The first volume of the manga is a stand alone work, where a story arc is uncovered across a series of smaller stories. We follow Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team of elite Japanese police known as Section 9, a cyborg special-ops squad dealing in anti-terrorism. Like 24‘s CTU, but more high-tech and with less betrayals. As they tackle troubles of the day, they explore some pretty lofty ideas that often coincide with the artist’s more cartoonish tendencies in the illustration.

Going into the manga, I had a fairly good idea of what to expect. Shirow has often attracted criticism (at least, from the three anime-related podcasts I subscribe to) for being the idea-man, and nothing else. He’s given the world Ghost in the Shell, but really he gave Mamoru Oshii Ghost in the Shell, and he made something great with the material. Having finally read the thing for myself, I can say that this is not entirely true, but not unfounded either.

The chief issue one familiar with the anime might find paging through the comic is its tone. Whereas the two movies are deadpan serious, and the series feels very western in its handling of light-heartedness (in moderation), the comic is relentless in its plain goofiness. The humor itself isn’t necessarily terrible, but its presence is felt, and it feels inappropriate. Every issue ends similar to how some of the Stand Alone episodes of Stand Alone Complex do — the Major and Batou solemnly discuss the philosophical or psychological undercurrents of what just happened. Sometimes this will include a panel of the guy who’s been hacked to believe he’s got a wife and kids, and this moment is pretty sombre, but also a satisfying conclusion. Classic Ghost in the Shell. But then we get one more panel at the bottom with superdeformed Aramaki barking some order and the Tachikomas, or Fuchikomas, squawking about a farcical robot rebellion.

It’s not fair to say that this is simply what to expect when one reads Japanese comics, because the last time I reviewed a manga it was Phoenix, and that was consistent in art style and tone throughout. At the very least, it was balanced, confident in its tone. Yet, I can’t help but imagine that indeed this is simply what to expect when one reads Japanese comics. Why else would Shirow include it? He’s got to be playing to a culture, a rich history of titles with these types of jokes and breaking the seriousness every once in a while.

That would be perfectly fine were it not for what the humor sidelines often distract from. The Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow to me was like the bible for the rest of the series — from this point stories were drawn for elements in Innocence, episodes in Stand Alone Complex, and the arc for Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Ghost in the Shell SAC: Solid State Society. Because of this, the stories are a delight to behold. It also takes the approach closer to the series than the movies in terms of the characters; Saito and Pazu and Boma aren’t seen a whole lot (I’m pretty sure “Paz,” as he’s called, never makes an appearance), but they’re there, where they never show up in the films (except for Saito for a frame or two in the first movie, without his eyepatch).

The artwork, when it isn’t superdeformed, is in my opinion pretty superb. I qualify with “in my opinion,” because my experience with the medium is limited, so it’s difficult for me to judge what truly great comic art should be like. The cityscapes and robot designs are particularly striking; Shirow undoubtedly has an eye for design, which I suppose is why Shinji Aramaki gets hired to bring his stuff to the silver screen. Guns are another big thing for me, and they get their due, as do the vehicles.

Most impressive would have to be the cyborg stuff. When somebody gets shot up real bad, the metal gets all jagged and wires stick out. Sometimes — as in the making of a cyborg — we see heads split open and mechanical brains inside. The detail in these drawings is inspiring, and we couple that with footnotes provided by the author that discuss the ludicrous science behind it all.

It’s certainly a unique experience, and though it’s been recognized time and again that The Ghost in the Shell exists mostly to create a formula for other things, its own merits should not be undervalued. There is a great deal of entertainment and provoking thought to be had in the volume, and if you’re as big a Major fan as I am, it’s always nice to see her in more adventures. I suppose that if you’re a real Major fan though the series would constitute as the “more adventures,” but whatever. To each his own Ghost in the Shell.

It will be difficult for me to get across in words just how much I appreciate the Ghost in the Shell series, how much it means to me as a fan of science-fiction and… things that are good. I suppose that’ll make the next post somewhat ironic, but beyond that it’s all uphill, or downhill–good stuff anyhow, all good stuff. Ghost in the Shell appeals to me on almost every level as someone who’s watched a fair to nearly good amount of science-fiction movies and shows and never really ‘fallen in love’ with anything beyond the nostalgia movies of childhood.

They take a premise, which is that in the future we’ve blurred the line between metal and flesh, man and machine, such that our brains are computers and can be manipulated. But what of humanity?, and they don’t just make it about a detective or some dude, they make it about a paramilitary organization within the Japanese government–and they run into some crazy stuff. Of course, Ghost in the Shell 2 is more about detectives, but you still get the same dose of robot suits, cyber-terrorists, gadgets, gross bodily harm, artificial intelligence, and existential musings the series is known for.

It’s cyberpunk, or post-cyberpunk if you must, with a heavy philosophical bent. An obvious influence on the Deus Ex series in this regard (though it’s probably more successful), and something that took a few notes itself from the likes of Gibson and Blade Runner. The world it creates is much more frightening than 2019 Los Angeles, or the Sprawl, however, as the future tech has become so advanced it’s invisible. You can have a shotgun in your arm and walk around town fully loaded while none would be the wiser. That’s not really the scary part, but it’s kind of a fun idea. What’s scary is the ability to be hacked…

We don’t really feel for computers when they cluck up–we feel for ourselves and our wallets. But what if we could be compromised mentally by the will of some motherfucker with good hacking skills? What if an artificial life form created on the Net wanted no more than to exist, but first needed you to believe you have a family when you don’t? One minute you’re some poor dude and the next you’re a terrorist. Or, one minute you’re a terrorist and the next you’re a meat puppet killing all your friends and waiting for somebody to cap you–depends on who’s team you’re on.

Ghost in the Shell is much more concerned with cyborgs and virtual reality than megacorporations or cyber-drugs or androids; there’s a prevailing preoccupation with the man-machine interface and the loss of humanity. The Major can’t quite be sure of herself, as her body was patched together before our very eyes in a lab, and there exist fake memories, like Blade Runner. Might she just be a collection of false lives inside a robot shell? At least she’s got her personality… but we’ll get into that.

This choice of cyberpunk tropes is what I like most and least about the series, but we’ll get there too…

Before we begin, I suppose I should note something. I’ve never watched a single volume of Ghost in the Shell with the original language track, so… see ya.

If you’ve decided to stick around to see what I have to say–thank you, that’s very courteous. The truth is: the dub is excellent. Which dub? All. With the exception I suppose of the first movie, all the voice talent is consistently good. There are those weird pauses and awkward intonations that you’d expect from any translated work, but these are few and far between, and perhaps appropriate, given the inhuman nature of the cast.

Ghost in the Shell is one of my very favorite things in the realm of science-fiction, so I’ll try to do it justice here. It’s all worth seeing, so if you haven’t yet, I recommend you get your ass to Amazon right quick, and here to help is a Ghost in the Shell Buyer’s Guide, because it can get kind of confusing:

(These are things that I’ve bought–they’re all good. I won’t speculate on anything)

1. Ghost in the Shell DVD, released by Manga Entertainment: $10 on Amazon. Light on special features, from what I recall, but it’s probably the most essential to own for any cinema buff. If you prefer high-def, you’ll have to settle for Ghost in the Shell 2.0, which is nearly the same movie, but with awkward CG rendered scenes in the beginning.

2. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence Blu-Ray, released by Bandai Entertainment. There was a big curfuffle surrounding the original US release of Innocence. The DVD by DreamWorks Video has apparently a terrible subtitle job, which is basically just closed-captioned. If you want to know that a helicopter is making noise or that footsteps are happening, check this one out (Netflix ships this one), but if you want a real version or the English dub, look no further than the excellent Blu-Ray disc. Along with the Stand Alone Complex cast dub, it’s also got some Oshii-esque special features: a trip to Cannes and a look at how some scenes were animated. It’s $149.99 New on Amazon, which is shocking because it definitely was not that when I picked it up. Sorry. The DVD version, with its weird naked girl cover is equally absurd, at $49.99. The poop CC version will have to do, it’s a more modest $11. Honestly, the CC isn’t that terrible…

3. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – I have yet to buy this one, because I watched it all on Netflix streaming, which it is currently on right as we speak. At the time, 2nd Gig wasn’t, so…

4. Ghost in the Shell: Anime Legends 2nd Gig, released by Bandai Entertainment. If I remember correctly, this is the same deal as the Cowboy Bebop I have–something like a Franchise Collection line, I don’t really know. It’s the cheaper version of the real thing, so you get all the discs but it’s bare bone–no special features. Being the whole second season I suppose $20 on Amazon isn’t bad, especially compared to the current cost of a new ‘real’ version, which may have better cover art, but’ll run you in the ballpark of $299.99. Used is only $24.95 at this moment, so if that doesn’t bother you it’s probably worth it. Like the first Gig, this is on Netflix streaming, so there’s an instant alternative if you have the subscription.

4. Ghost in the Shell SAC: Solid State Society Limited Edition Steelbook, released by Manga. Yikes this one is also expensive, running at $37.98 Amazon price. I paid maybe $20 for it so maybe the tides will turn in time. As it stands though it’s not a terrible deal. Three discs, including the soundtrack, which is pretty good–From the Roof Top by Ilaria Graziano is awesome–but not the series’ best. Considering the Blu-Ray is ten dollars cheaper I’d probably go for that one. The Limited Edition Blu-Ray is so expensive that it isn’t even available. (laughs)

5. Ghost in the Shell, PS2 game. Yeah I bought this for some unreasonable amount of money for the PS3, a system that refuses to play it. I think it was like $3, which wouldn’t be so bad but I also bought one of the PS2 classics–Zone of the Enders 2–the same day, and it wouldn’t play either. Thanks, Sony. You’re a pal.

So that’s the list. Pretty expensive. But worth it. I guess there were also two books, but… damn it. I’ll get to those later.

Like Ridley Scott, Mamoru Oshii is an unsung hero of science-fiction in film. He became a name among nerds in America in 1995 with the global release of Ghost in the Shell, a film that touted itself as the next Akira, as I suppose every anime movie does or should. It was based on a manga by Masamune Shirow, but having read quite a bit of the source material myself (ten pages?), I can tell you that the movie is definitively a product of Oshii.

We can also see this as true because another Shirow flick, Appleseed, is child’s fare intellectually compared to Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. The man has a style, he has obnoxious signatures, but above all, he’s willing to use the medium of film to do what so few other science-fiction filmmakers dare to do – explore. Whether it’s ideas of personal or metaphysical philosophy or new and profound imagery, Oshii always has something fascinating to say, and an equally fascinating way to say it.

I think I’ll paraphrase a quote used to compliment The Fountain – something like it’s a film that’s as deeply felt as it is imagined. That’s a beautiful criticism, and for a cerebral, thoughtful science-fiction film, I can think of no higher accolade. Such an accolade can easily be applied to movies like Ghost in the Shell, Innocence, Avalon, Patlabor 2 (though I really didn’t like that one), and even Jin-Roh, though he didn’t direct that one (it’ll still be covered here). Sure, his movies lack the emotional depth of The Fountain, but they make up for it in science-fiction themes generally unique to the director.

His visuals are matched by their ideas, and in this was he’s a director who fills out what I believe to be the height of science-fiction film. If the greatest, most important sci-fi flick is Blade Runner, this is because it makes us think, maybe it scares us into thinking but I like to think it moves us to do it as well, and dazzles us with visuals that spark our imaginations.

That is what I ask of sci-fi filmmakers to do, because I personally find that to be the best, most engaging experience I can have watching a movie. The images and thoughts of Oshii linger in my head long after the Major’s joined the Sea of Information, long after Ash has joined the Sea of Information, long after Batou has… walked off with a dog.

I also got some of his older stuff in the mail, two of which I haven’t even seen. Hopefully they’re good, because that’s what we’re starting with…

After Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, this is one of the first movies of one of Japan’s most well-known filmmakers, Hayao Miyazaki, whose body of work has inspired environmental attitudes, joy in people of all ages, and retrohate. His other celebrated movies are Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, and most recently his Ponyo was released in America with another strong English voice cast. Miyazaki can be approximated as the Japanese equivalent of Pixar – while other anime movie directors like Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon were making movies aimed at an older audience, Miyazaki continued doing family-friendly films that all ages could enjoy.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is no exception; as much as this movie is simply amazing, I think it’s a really important film to show to a growing child. All too often American animated movies that are aimed at children (100% of them) seem to be made just for the laughs, for example every Dreamworks movie, and some of the lesser Pixar flicks. They also rarely tackle the realities of the world, and this is because of an implicit attitude that goes into creating an animated film, that this world should be entirely removed from our own, and that violence and death are better left to the PG-13 animated movies, and the last one of those was… Beowulf? Star War: The Clone Wars? Cool World? These are really rather rare.

There is violence here, and there is death, but these aren’t gratuitous. In fact, everything that happens is deliberate and serves a higher purpose in the whole of the movie, and this should be a good stepping stone for children in their own journeys through early development. It’s a whole movie just as it is wholesome, with heroes and villains and brilliantly realized landscapes and creatures.

The themes dealt with in Nausicaa on the surface are environmental, that we should make peace with nature and live in harmony with the planet, but if Miyazaki never made another Nausicaa-esque picture (he did with Mononoke and countless others) the major theme we’d extrapolate from the environmental ideas is living in harmony with each other. It’s an anti-violence film just as much as it is an environmental one, something of an Avatar, but less overwrought in its message. It’s more subtle, and the characters aren’t simplistic archetypes.

Eponymous heroine Nausicaa in particular is a wonderful character, a perfect role model for kids, and – in this is significant to the themes of the movie – a female. Once again, if Miyazaki never made another movie, one would think that Nausicaa as a female was deliberate, but almost every other one of his movies has a young female hero, and they all look the same. It would seem deliberate here because action movies – never mind science-fiction action movies – rarely feature women in the heroic roles, unless they end up being romantically involved with our manly man hero.

And that really pisses me off.

*spoiler alert*

In Nausicaa, it works particularly well because there is a theme of progression. It tells of a world that exists long after ours, where nature has reclaimed the Earth after the people of the past (us) destroyed it with pollution and war. Because it was the men who make war and instigate women’s rights eras and lead the politics of the world in the past, it will be up to a woman to change the world for the better in the future; essentially, guys, we’ve had our time in the sun, and we failed. This is made most obvious in the prophecy noted early on in the film, where it’s been said that a hero clad in blue will save the planet, and the accompanying picture on the tapestry depicts a male. At the end of the movie, we find that the prophecy has been fulfilled, but it’s a woman clad in blue.

*end spoiler*

Of course, there are other things that make our heroine compelling, and one of my favorite element to her character is that she’s complex. Just as she kills several badguys in a fit of rage, she breaks down and cries; she’s realistic, and in this way we can begin to sympathize with her plight. It doesn’t hurt that the adventure she goes in is equally compelling; in the events of the movie Nausicaa traverses a massive land whose scale is expertly laid out and builds up to creating a weight to the situation by the climactic battle at the end.

We are witness to giant flying snake-like creatures, the mighty Ohm, and of course, the larger-than-life God Warrior, as animated by another famous name in anime, Hideaki Anno (see my Evangelion review for more info on that… dude). The world is also full of natural wonders and even history – there is a grand sense of mythology permeating the story, and it’s also implied that an older civilization came before, but was completely obliterated.

What also makes Nausicaa a great movie to show to the younger is that this is pure storytelling, surprisingly streamlined and made simple. It’s surprising because there is a lot going on in the narrative. We have warring nations, a major threat from the planet itself, conflicting agendas, the aforementioned mythologies and prophecies, and round characters on all sides. The professionalism in the way the story is told can be analogized in the God Warrior. What’s explained isn’t what the warrior is aside from an old world-killer, but what it’s importance is in the narrative. Here we have scifi storytelling not bogged down by extraneous world-building, because that wouldn’t be appropriate in the context of the film.

Not only is the story told well, but the messages are conveyed just the same, though if I do have one complaint, it does have to do with that message. All too often does Nausicaa say “We need to stop with this violence!” and other bits of dialogue repeat to get the same points across. These instances are few, but there is some minor sense of telling but not showing in this way.

If you’re a parent, I highly suggest that this be one of the earlier movies your kid sees – it’s bound to spark imagination just as it will progressive thought in terms of feminism and environmentalist thought, and it’s realistic about death. It’s also a good entry way into the medium of Japanese animation, which is an entity very different from American animation, as we’re sure to see later.

I come to Evangelion as a scifi fan first, but I do have some knowledge of the anime medium. I know enough, just listening to anime podcasts, that it’s not worth discussing the series, as everything’s been said. The people who love it, the people who hate it, whatever. It’s possible that I could offer something new, but I wouldn’t know – I wouldn’t know where to begin with research on what people have to say, I know there’s so much. Evangelion is the story of how interesting premises can become subverted by messily constructed story and characters.

 

 

What we have here with Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone, which I’ll call Evangelion from now on, is a shorthand version of the famous Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the most popular shows from Japan ever, right up there with Gundam, Cowboy Bebop, and Naruto. Evangelion the movie is a remake of some portion of the series with the same story and characters, but updated visuals. Because it’s the first in a proposed trilogy, it’s a technically incomplete story.

That’s certainly the least of its problems in terms of plot. This is an incredibly poorly constructed story; you’d think with all these various releases and revisions of the same story, there’d be a refined, decent version. But as far as I can tell, this movie begins in media res, and continues through a terribly paced and dull 1 hour and 41 minutes. I figure though I shouldn’t harp too much on the story, as it is a compressed version, and since I haven’t seen the original series, I cannot blame the movie entirely for sucking in the story department. It’s very possible that if I watched the compressed Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex movies without seeing the series, I’d feel the same way.

But I do know for certain that the characters in the movie are all awful. While only versed in the various pieces of Anime Bullshit through sources such as Fast Karate for the Gentleman and Anime World Order, for example – superdeformation, incest, gothic lolitas (?) – I did see some stupid pedo-shit, like the 14 year old girl nudity. There’s one instance of an entire face getting red from embarassment, which I’ve seen before in Pokemon and stuff. So this is sort of the level of cool we’re working with – Shinji and the gang are a real smooth bunch.

The girl who picks him up and makes him pilot the synthetic biomech, the Eva Unit 1, whose name is Katsuragi, which I only half remember because it reminds me of Kusanagi, acts like she’s 12 years old and gets way too excited to be eating dinner with an actual 12 year old kid. The scene where she’s drinking beer and pitching the idea of hanging out to Shinji is embarassing but only characteristic of the rest of the movie. Then there’s the father, AKA Douch McDoucheDoogalson. It’s probably within the artistic intent to make all the characters assholes, but that makes it all the more difficult to appreciate their plight. It’s a catch-22 for sure. But just look at Cowboy Bebop, the quintessential ‘cool’ anime. Faye is a backstabbing, whiny, lazy character, but that bit of pathos in her story was surprisingly poigniant – to me, at least. And she’s bearable because she’s one of four characters, two of which are totally sweet. Who’s totally sweet in Evangelion? Eva Unit 1, and he’s hardly a round character.

I recall that in the Akira Episode of Dreck Fiction: The Original Series, as it shall heretoafter be referred to as, I said that I didn’t understand anime fandom. Evangelion has by example taught me, or rather reinforced, because I already knew why anime was popular – I was just being stupid. Evangelion made me realize why anime was cool, because of all the things it almost does. Anime is cool because of movement and designs. There is some of that in this movie, especially in the design, but it’s always minimized by another problem. In fact, there are actually two things that were interesting. The first and foremost is the mech designs. They’re so spindly and weird, I love it. Eva Unit 1 is an awesome thing, and even though we saw little of Eva Unit 0, it was similar looking. They do look more like monsters than robots; they’re like Kaiju on Weight Watchers. The second thing is the city of Tokyo-3, which is militarized in every sense. I like how the buildings flip down and cannons appear everywhere – it’s like an automated battlefield.

Throughout the course of the film, our hero Shinji battles with three Angels, each decreasing in visual coolness. The plot is set up so that each time an Angel attacks it’s a big event of coercing Shinji, mobilizing, launching, and fighting the Angel. For some reason there’s always a countdown toward the end of the fight, as though we need something to tell us in the most basic manner that this is exciting – it’s the equivalent of having a laugh track in your unfunny sitcom. We’re running out of time! But anyway, everything in between is gag-inducing. Whether it’s the naked 14 year old sequence alluded to earlier, or the depressed antics of the hero, none of it is compelling, meaningful, interesting, or anything that generally makes a scene good.

Of course the biggest complaint I have about the movie is a combination of the two previous complaints. I talked about Katsuragi and the father, and how there’s also a naked 14 year old named Rei, who’s a complete blank slate (compelling character!), but then there’s Shinji. If Wikipedia.org is to be believed, this character is a direct reflection of the director Hideaki Anno. He was a pretty depressed dude, and thought about the otaku lifestyle as a form of social retardation. So Shinji is depressed and a social outcast.

Apparently Evangelion was meant to be postmodern, with commentary on this lifestyle. It’s very, very apparent in dialogue that the main theme of the film is not to run away from your problems, and as a premise, this is interesting. But remember what I said about premises and this movie. Disregarding the fact that the whole giant robot thing could be dumped and the not run away from your problems theme could be paired with anything else, the delivery of the ideas within the theme is a product of one terrible script.

And this is a problem that traces right back to Shinji. He’s so freaking down on himself that he becomes downright inexplicable and overall very annoying. It kind of reminds me of Frodo in the Rings movies, where you’re just yelling at him to toss the ring or be nice to Sam but in that case he was being a douche because of the ring; there was internal logic, which isn’t necessarily always warranted in a fantasy world, so good on them I guess. But there are scenes and scenes where Shinji hesitates or mopes around and you just want to reach into the screen and grab him by the collar like Katsuragi did. If only Kusanagi did, she would’ve popped his head right off. Now that would have been stellar anime.

Even if you did buy into the character and was right there with him, all asking himself why me, why me and shit, I don’t believe you’d make it to the end. He repeats himself so many times he’s essentially defined by his unhappiness in being a kid soldier. That’s sensical, I mean, I wouldn’t want to be a kid soldier, unless of course piloting a giant robot was involved, in which case sign me – oh wait, they’re constrained by power cords. The hell?

I tired very quickly of his problems. His motivations were also strange, as he is swept into this unexplained conflict and forced to do something just because. The only reason we have children saving the world is because it’s their destiny. Goddamn man, I’m really sick of no-good reasons for no-good things. I hate kids in movies so much, and when you give me no reason why they’re there, I just can’t handle it.

I haven’t the slightest idea why this series is as popular as it is, if this movie is any indication of the other pieces of the media franchise. How could the same person say they liked Cowboy Bebop and turn around and say they like Evangelion? That’s like if I said yeah Jaws was pretty good, but I’m more partial to Shark Attack 3: Magalodon. The shark was bigger in that movie.

There are the religious symbols, which could translate as pretenses to a higher plane of intellect if misinterpreted. The creators have noted that the laser crosses and giant-alien crucifixions are only there because they look cool, so I don’t really see the intellect in that, unless you have a Twilight situation where most likely the books and movies are terrible, but they’re brilliant in the sense that they perfectly target and manipulate a willing and waiting audience. I don’t think that the books can be considered literature, but the fans will have you think different, for sure. Anime fans are like video-game fans – the game journalists and fans pissed themselves over Heavy Rain and BioShock because they, theoretically, would bring their medium to a higher level of consideration among the general populace. If Evangelion is as smart as the fans want it to be, then that’s a good thing to them.

I guess it would be like if Mamoru Oshii or Shirow came in and said that Ghost in the Shell was actually about space cows traveling through time and none of the existentialism was a legitimate expression of real ideas – pretty dissapointing. But when you think about it, what do laser crosses have to do thematically with anything going on? What does it say about anything?

I’m never one to complain about English dubs, because subtitles are appropriate here, and dubs are appropriate here. It’s an argument I don’t care about. But this dub was not very good. Watching a few bits of anime I’ve come to actually recognize a few actors, and some who I consider to be pretty good, like the cast of Stand Alone Complex, and the guy who played Kuze, who was Gemma in Ninja Scroll and the ponytail guy from Sky Blue. Everyone in this show was just a whiny bunch and I didn’t recognize anyone. But now I have to ask myself – were they bad actors, or was the script just that bad that it reached out and sucked the lifeforce out of them? In better words, was it just a script that made them seem bad?

How I managed to write so much about this I am still dumbfounded. Here’s some more: I’ve heard this series described as a giant monster show, and apparently the Evas are actually cyborgs anyway, so that’s kind of like a monster. All the hallmarks of Kaiju movies are there – millions of bullets and tank fire hit the monster, but nothing is as effective as the other monster. But this is like one of those bad Godzilla movies, where the fight is like five minutes long. The only fight that’s worth a damn in Evangelion is the first, and it’s not that good. Mostly because the sounds that come from the Eva Unit 1 were and irritating. Don’t rent this.

And now for the last of my conclusions: the scene that sums up the entirety of Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone occurs during the second battle where Shinji runs out of Gatling Gun ammo and the guys underground supply him an Assault Rifle, a huge Shinji Aramaki-esque gun design that’s totally sweet and you’d totally take if you were a giant robot pilot. But he doesn’t. And therein lies the key to which I have unlocked why this movie did not work for me on the chief level – the split between audience and character is too great. We want him to do so many things that he doesn’t, it’s like there’s an anticlimax every second. Ultimately, this movie is just like a weak version of Appleseed (2004). In Appleseed, you have action scenes and you have non-action scenes. The action scenes are damn good. The non-action scenes are grating and pretentious. Evangelion doesn’t even have good action scenes. Add on top of that that Appleseed isn’t even that good a movie.

I got tired of looking at those robots... I much prefer the designs of Yoji Shinkawa, though my stupid PS3 isn't able to play Zone of the Enders 2...

Blade Runner is a film whose echo can still be felt today. Bubblegum Crisis, Metal Gear Solid, Minority Report, AI, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Dark City, Natural City, Sky Blue, even Star Wars – they all take visual cues from the movie in some way, or in the case of Natural City, an entire plot and philosophy! I figure I’ll explore the movies and shows and video-games that were affected by Blade Runner before talking about Blade Runner, so that it is made known the magnitude of the film we’re dealing with…

One day, some guy in Japan saw Blade Runner and misinterpreted a lot of it. He got the visuals though, and some of the names of things. It was probably a fan sub. Anyway, he got to work, and Bubblegum Crisis was born.

There are many different spin-off series of the 8-episode OVA that I saw (through YouTube.com, no less) and I don’t know if it’s based on a manga or not. As kind of an okay-to-averange anime fan, I’m not really the best resource for these things anyway. While the original series is heavily informed by the look, the subject, and the style of Blade Runner, apparently later iterations like The AD Police mix Ghost in the Shell and Robocop in.

Add on top of that callouts to Battlestar Galactica and it’s almost unbelievable that modern Internet dorks didn’t made this, but real professionals. It’s so dangerously close to fan fiction – how could it carry such a name for itself? There’s a few reasons for that.

For starters, it’s pretty good. For a show about robot suits and robots, it’s decently entertaining, though I don’t know how much of that I have to owe to Fast Karate for the Gentleman bumping up the entertainment value by commenting on every single helicopter incident (all the helicopter pilots in the show, every episode, say “I’m going in for a closer look,” which heralds their deaths by robot laser). It’s also got a very naive mentality to it, something uncommon considering its subgenre. It exists in a world where the super-powered robot apocalypse is flanked by 80’s workout music and heroes who have a front as lengerie store owners.

80’s is probably the key word there. Just like the great films of our time, Commando, Total Recall, Die Hard, Robocop, Predator Bubblegum Crisis has that action movie feel because it combines good-to-gooder fight scenes with shenanigans of all varieties, totally forgoing anything that makes other better known cyberpunk anime good – intelligence, seriousness (that’s subjective of course). There are so many ridiculous things that happen in this show, it’s hard to believe that somewhere among the inspirations was a story by Philip K. Dick, arguably the hardcorest science-fiction author.

Bubblgeum Crisis, so named for the idea that the city (MegaTokyo) is on edge like a bubblegum bubble about to pop, transplants the Blade Runner look and some of the ideas into a Streets of Fire/Metropolis world where robots, created by the evil, evil, evil Genom Corporation, run rampant frequently, and it’s up to the vigilante, all-female, robot-suit clad squad known as the Knight Sabers to fight them!

What? I swear – Blade Runner the anime doesn’t do this show justice. For example, exploring any part of the show to any degree of depth as you would Blade Runner reveals some inconsistencies; how exactly do the Knight Sabers afford the most expensive most powerful armor suits on the planet?

And how are they vigilantes, you might ask, if they only fight robots, like Rick Deckard? Well in each episode someone who was ‘friends’ with our main character Priss (as opposed to Pris) gets killed in some way by Genom, and it’s up to the Knight Sabers to fight them! It seems to be revenge every episode, so I suppose that vengeance fueled their creation? Damn bad luck if they’re still in operation… Stop making friends, or confusing the word ‘friend,’ with ‘barely-an-acquaintence…’

The reason I say that the Japanese guy behind this (yeah I’m sure it was just one guy) misinterpreted Blade Runner is because the parallel is imperfect. Yes the cityscape is very derivative in Bubblegum Crisis, but I don’t see the connection with Genom to Tyrell, for example. Tyrell is amoral, not immoral. Genom wants to destroy the world with robots, and that’s why heroes have to fight them. Why the company is popular I don’t know. Tyrell the man didn’t anticipate Roy Batty and the Replicants, and is only out to make a whole lot of money.

But that’s whatever. Bubblegum Crisis doesn’t align with Blade Runner entirely because there’s no good reason it should (see: Natural City). It was just a good idea – add rocknroll, transforming motorcycles and the clichest villains ever and you have Bubblegum Crisis – check it.

For More on Blade Runner, check out The Blade Runner Directory

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