Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
I have yet to drink green beer on St. Patrick's Day. My mom (who is not Irish at all) always cooked corned beef brisket and cabbage in a slow cooker (which we called a "crock pot") on St. Patrick's Day. She also made her own tasty rendition of Irish soda bread, omitting the fennel, raisins, and even the buttermilk (because screw it, we never had buttermilk around). Apparently corned beef is not as authentically Irish as boiled bacon, but I'm willing to give both a try this year.
RIN - Daughters of Mnemosyne could be loosely related to St. Patrick's Day insomuch as the protagonist has green hair and drinks very heavily (but if you call her Irish, that is racist…).
Based on the first episode alone, this show would not be Shelf Worthy. The dub is uninspired, with Colleen Clinkenbeard mumbling and too close to the mic as Rin, the protagonist. Mimi (the sidekick) is kind of annoying in the dub, instead of sweet like she is in Japanese. The DVD set includes a Japanese extra of the seiyuu chatting. After such a dark and dreary show, it's a relief to watch the cheerful voice actors.
The first episode, and most of the series, is all about ero-guro. Finally, fans of the erotic-grotesque subgenre have an anime of their very own! Rin is an immortal, but the psycho scientist in the nurse costume torturing her to death via genital piercings in episode one doesn't know it!
The first episodes are filled with that kind of hardcore erotic violence, the likes of which one might expect more from a Media Blasters title than Funimation. Rin harkens back to the days of Ninja Scroll and Demon City Shinjuku, when anime was really dark and really violent. Fortunately, about a third of the way into the series, the producers seem to decide the show is more than mere (softcore?) pornography. Suddenly the plot takes the front seat and starts driving the show.
The result is a cringe-worthy show turned into a sci-fi HBO drama for adults. It's refreshing to see a show with an original plot instead of just another unoriginal series aimed at teenagers. There are only six episodes, but each is an hour long.
Rin and her sidekick Mimi run a "we do anything" agency, a business model that could not possibly thrive outside of anime. You might remember such agencies from anime like Devil May Cry. "Anything" means occasionally finding lost cats, but mostly getting involved in shady situations finding missing people who are caught up with highly dangerous characters. The "agency" aspect is dropped halfway through in favor of an ongoing fight against a single fierce opponent.
Each episode is set 10 years after the last, starting in 1991, then jumping ahead into the future. These jumps ahead in time keep things really interesting from a sci-fi standpoint as technology advances. In fact, each episode has a really well thought out sci-fi premise. As a sci-fi fan, I appreciate it.
The series draws from Norse mythology (despite the Greek title). The magical tree Yggdrasil towers ominously over Tokyo, unseen by ordinary people. The show adds to that its own crazy internal mythology, involving male angels, arousal, and female immortals. It's fetish-y, but in a tolerable way, like Heavy Metal magazine. (Actually I've never read Heavy Metal, unlike every guy I'm friends with.)
Things wrap up in episode six, which is nearly as crazy as the ending of Video Girl Ai, although less unexpected. (I highly recommend Video Girl Ai, by the way… why don't I own that?) Rin has a certain "WTF" element that reminds me why I got into anime in the first place. It's the sort of thing you show to new fans to shake them up, like Legend of the Overfiend. It's the kind of thing discuss with your friends later for hours. It is not, however, the sort of thing you watch with your parents.[TOP]
But you could totally watch Glass Mask with your parents. I'm going to make my mom watch this.
Frankly, this would be Shelf Worthy no matter how crappy of a DVD release it got. That said, this is a really shoddy DVD release. There is no dub, and there are no extras, and it gets cheaper from there; episode titles are not included in the DVD menus, just episode numbers, so if you lose your place it's hard to pick it up again. The DVDs are stacked inelegantly in the box on a single spool thingy. I had a hard time wrestling the discs out.
Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite series ever, and I would have bought it if I didn't get free screeners for this column. In fact, I'm worried that only two people in the U.S. were ready to buy this the moment it came out, and now that I own a copy I have cut potential sales by 50%.
Glass Mask is essentially sports anime for drama geeks. Maya, our naïve and optimistic protagonist, was born with a natural talent for acting. She rises above her ramen-delivery-girl roots to rival a super rich actor girl with two famous parents, not unlike Hikaru rivaling Akira in Hikaru no Go. The title refers to the fragile "Glass Mask" all actors wear.
This show is great for two reasons. First, and most practically, it's rated PG and has some educational merit. You could show it to your high school anime club or your parents and seem classy. Maya acts in classic plays like The Miracle Worker, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, and a bunch of Japanese plays I've never heard of that are probably also classics.
Second, Glass Mask is based on a shojo manga series from the 1970's. That means it doesn't resemble modern shojo, even if it has been updated to take place in the present. I learned everything I know about shojo from Dr. Weeaboo, a student of Matt "Shojo" Thorn. The '70s were a great time for shojo, when girl's manga tackled gender issues and great external stories. Modern shojo focuses mostly on the inner lives of characters and tiny emotional moments drawn out for pages at a time. Glass Mask pauses to consider Maya's feelings periodically, but the series is too busy chronicling her rise to stardom to pause for too long (a feature it shares with the hardcore ballet title Swan, another '70s shojo manga which I can't recommend enough).
The original Glass Mask character designs remind me a little of Oniisama E...… (Brother, Dear Brother), but in this series the designs have been updated for the 2000's. In tone, Glass Mask is very close the 1980 film Fame. (I haven't seen the remake.) Although Maya's goal is never to become famous; she just loves acting and is determined to make her living as an actor. Maya's fame is an almost tragic byproduct of her talent.
shonen protagonists endure crazy training methods to become stronger, like training in a black hole. Maya trains in crazy ways as an actor. "I want you to become a tree," Maya's acting coach, Mrs. Tsukikage, tells her in episode 13. Then she throws a rock at Maya. When the girl flinches, Mrs. Tsukikage says, "Does a tree move? Does it make a sound?"
If you hate actors, the show averages one actor getting slapped per episode.
The production values are quite high. I think this aired in a mainstream time slot in Japan. It's 51 episodes long, and the whole thing is available streaming online.
I really wish someone would license the manga, although it's 44 volumes and ongoing. It is one of the best selling shojo series of all time.[TOP]
Sands of Destruction isn't based on manga, it's based on a videogame.
In a world of desert seas of sand, Beastmen oppress humans. 16-year-old Morte lost her brother to Beastman/human conflict, and she's so bitter about it she wants to destroy the world. Luckily for Morte, her brother found the World Destruct Code and left it in her hands.
Morte unintentionally gathers a motley crew together and they become The World Destruction Committee, pursued across the sands by, who else, the World Salvation Committee. Morte's gang of outlaws includes Kyrie, a human who pretends to be a beastman by wearing fake ears, and Toppy, an adorable Dwarf Bear (or a Little Bear, depending on the sub or dub). Although Toppy is as adorable as a mascot character, he has a deep manly voice, and is very level-headed. He is the group's strongest fighter and the show's most memorable character.
In a typical episode, The World Destruction Committee rolls into town, uncovers a problem, clears it up, and then moves on. Because Sands is so episodic and kid friendly (TV-14), it's a shame it isn't on Cartoon Network. Fortunately, it's available streaming for free on Hulu and on Funimation's website.
Twelve of the thirteen episodes have titles beginning with "There are Two Kinds of…". This had the unfortunate consequence of making me think of the Britney Spears song "Circus" every time I popped in the DVD.
I like the premise a lot. Protagonists are so often saving the world, it's nice to see an angry teen like Morte who wants to do the opposite. There are some thought-worthy themes about racism, oppression, and discrimination that contrast nicely with the show's lightweight pace and humor. Production I.G (a favorite studio of mine) offers up some nice animation. By all rights, this should be a better show.
There are two kinds of things holding it back. First, the fight scenes could be better. For a series with so many fights, none are particularly memorable. The fights are all end quickly without any memorable choreography.
Second, the series is too short. I was really surprised when the show ended on episode 13. It didn't leave room to return to characters the protagonists met early on. I guess I'm accustomed to the epic sprawl of One Piece. Sands of Destruction is favorably like One Piece without being derivative. It also reminded me of early episodes of Nadia - Secret of Blue Water. When you watch Nadia, it feels like a classic. I can't put my finger on it, but Sands of Destruction is missing that "classic" feeling that would bump it up a shelf.
The dub is really great. Todd Haberkorn in particular is funny as Kryrie, and the dub on the whole is much funnier than the original, without many script changes. The DVD extras are cute (but un-dubbed) interviews with the characters, who talk about the show as if it were a live action film shoot.
Sands is a really solid show, but if it weren't for Toppy being adorable, I'd probably forget about it completely.[TOP]
I just found out more of my panels for Anime Boston have been accepted. I'll be running a panel called "Cooking with Manga" as well as "Recent Trends in Anthropomorphization, Hetalia to Wikipe-tan". I'll also be a panelist on "Manga-Mania I -- Enter Panel-dome".
This week's shelves are from Bridgeport's Jonathan, who wrote:
"I try my best to keep my standards high, to enjoy the highest rated games and films, and above all not give into impulse purchases, especially if the selling price of a movie drops like a brick in the coming months of its release. All of us only have so much time and money to spend on hobbies such as these, so why should we spend most of it on "stuff"? Things we would merely call "OK"? (I'm upgrading to Blu-ray, but I still miss having Paprika on my movie shelf)"
Want to show off your shelves? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com. Thanks!