Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
I think if you combined a cake buffet with a butler café, you might have the ultimate bear trap for estrogen. That colorful metaphor also describes this week's Shelf Life, which unintentionally proved to be one for the ladies.
Boy howdy, was I wrong about this one. The ending of season one of Black Butler was surprisingly awesome. It seemed to directly address problems I had with earlier episodes. Like, why were all the mansion support staff besides Sebastian incompetent to the point of slapstick comedy? It turns out there's a good reason, so good that I won't spoil it for you here. I was also frustrated by the stand-alone comedy episodes, especially episode three (featuring the gratingly loathsome Elizabeth). After a bizarre supernatural curry cook-off in episode 14, there are no more stand-alone comedy episodes while the show completes several satisfying story arcs. (A bonus episode where the cast performs Hamlet is legitimately funny.)
Previously, I was disappointed in the repetition of the catch phrase, “I'm one hell of a butler.” I thought it was a weak ending to the first volume of the manga, and I rolled my eyes (almost) every time the joke was repeated. Fortunately, the phrase is used sparingly in Part Two, as if the director was just as sick of the line as I was.
In this set, Sebastian and Ciel are sent to investigate a cult. Later, someone is smuggling drugs into London using candy wrappers. The series culminates at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, a scenic showdowns atop the Eiffel Tower. My frustration with the over-the-top comedy was more than made up for in one very serious and well-written episode where Ciel must fend for himself.
I hate to admit it, but I think I missed some episodes in the middle that introduced Grell, William T. Spears, and Undertaker. It's probably for the best; these additional shinigami characters are almost too hyperactively comedic for my tastes. I'm sure I would find them more annoying if they appeared too often. In part two, the particularly energetic Grell appears infrequently enough to stay funny. Daniel Fredrick mimics Jun Fukuyama's performance as Grell with just the right wacky lilt.
I was particularly impressed with William T. Spear's voice in the dub. J. Michael Tatum as Sebastian sounds cute enough, but I thought Sebastian sounded cuter in Japanese (sorry, Tatum; you were sexier in other dubs).
The dub performers are so enamored with their British accents that they deliver one voice actor commentary entirely in character. (…And the characters don't know what a television is…) It's cute at first, but rapidly becomes irritating. In the other (more serious) commentary, Josh Grelle and ADR engineer Kevin Leasure admit that that Black Butler made them want to drink tea – so much so they started preparing tea before every recording. [TOP]
Guin Saga is based on the first 16 volumes of a 130 volume novel series, perhaps the grandfather of all light novel series, which began in the 1979. There is definitely an older feel to Guin Saga, akin to the 1982 Conan the Barbarian film. I love that movie (I've never read any of the pulp-y Conan books), and I have played my share of tabletop Dungeons and Dragons. I've even read the first five Guin novels, available in America from Vertical (and I did a podcast about them with the publisher).
All five of Vertical's books are covered in the first ten episodes! That's a great adaptation ratio! Guin Saga trucks along at just the right pace through the source material; you're guaranteed at least one good fight per episode. This is far superior to most uneven and stilted manga adaptations. Since Guin is a classic, there is an ineffable reverence for the source material. (Not that Naruto doesn't revere its source material…) This comes through nowhere more than in the opening credits, which are set to a cinematic instrumental piece rather than the standard pop song.
Normally, I hate stories with an amnesiac protagonist, but I like Guin. Guin wakes up in a haunted, monster-filled forest, possessing the body of fighter with 18/00 strength and the head of a leopard. He has no idea how he got his cat head or how he ended up there. He winds up protecting two kids, royal twins, who were accidentally teleported into the insanely dangerous forest (“Don't sleep, or the dream eaters will get you”) by their parents when their kingdom (Parros) fell in a surprise attack. I never liked this opening, but the rocky first 100 pages of the novel are over in ten minutes. After a series of adventures including sword-fighting, fisticuffs, and strategic cavalry battles in the wasteland with various monkey-like races of demi-humans, Guin, the twins, and their new mercenary friend Istavan head back to Parros for some high court and castle intrigue.
Sentai Filmworks' release includes the first 13 episodes in a 3-disc set, the third disc being extras. The first 13 episodes contain a crazy amount of plot, so I feel you do get a good chunk of story for your money. The third disc has footage of the anime premiere event, interviews with the Japanese voice actors, and an interview with Kiyoshi Imaoka, the late author's husband and editor. The author herself, Kaoru Kurimoto, passed away in May of 2009, but she made it to the anime premiere event. The extras seem to be aimed at an audience that already knows Guin Saga was based on novels and about Kurimoto's death. I think Sentai could've at least included a text-only preface for newbies, or mentioned that five of the novels are available in English.
Unfortunately, the dub is one of the worst I've seen in years. The English dialog is nearly verbatim to the subs, with only the occasional line variation, so nothing sounds naturalistic. I realize it must be difficult to adapt dialog for high fantasy, but very little attempts have been made to clean up the dry translation. Istavan in particular says “My, my!” a lot, and David Matranga sounds odd every single time he says it. [TOP]
Nevertheless, I think Guin Saga is worth a watch. Getting back to reality and (more importantly) cake, I also watched Antique Bakery last week.
In case you've never heard of it, Antique Bakery is a bizarre mish-mash of stories centered around a rich dude, Keiichirō Tachibana, who opens a fancy French cake shop to solve a mystery from his childhood (not a Detective Conan mystery so much as a Law and Order SVU kind of mystery, but it would be a spoiler to go into too much detail). The cake shop/dessert café is run out of an old antique store (thus the name).
Tachibana's employees prove to be an eccentric bunch. One is an ex-boxer (forced into retirement due to detached retinas) who loves cake and becomes an apprentice patisserie. Another is Tachibana's clumsy, dimwitted childhood friend Chikage, who winds up working as a waiter. And then there's Ono.
A high school classmate of Tachibana's, Ono is now a renowned patisserie. He is also renowned for another reason: Ono is “gay of demonic charm.” At his previous jobs, straight men would fall in love with him and fight over him (physically). It caused problems so serious that he couldn't find a bakery willing to hire him.
One homosexual character ought not make a title “yaoi,” but the anime has far more yaoi overtones than the manga. Ono continually worries the other employees will fall for him. He shares several romantic moments with Chikage, which get far more screen time in the anime than I remember from the manga. Fumi Yoshinaga, the manga's creator, has also admittedly penned yaoi doujinshi of her own series.
Yaoi or not, the bulk of the content is cute men in attractive uniforms describing desserts. And a lot of care is taken to describe those desserts! Recently, Yoshinaga's foodie title Not Love But Delicious Foods (Make Me So Happy) came out in English (I recommend it!). Yoshinaga loves food, and it comes through in Antique Bakery, which seemed less ridiculous after I read Oishinbo. At the high point of Antique Bakery, a cake is used to solve a crime. No joke.
As an impromptu audience test, I watched this with a self-identifying fujoshi friend and my husband. The fujoshi started buying her own copy online before we were through with three episodes. My husband rolled his eyes a lot.
The production design is a little unusual. Everything is presented in slightly sepia-toned pastels, which looks a little funny, but brings the manga directly to the screen. The paper cut-out opening and CG puzzle-piece ending are also a little weird.
The extras are certainly above average. The Antique Bakery anime premiere event is fantastic, in part because all the seiyuu wear their respective characters' costumes. They also have a comedic rapport… until a girl from AKB48 takes the stage. Tomomi Kasai plays a minor role in just one episode. She totally ruins the all-male dynamic, and unsurprisingly, the fujoshi in the audience immediately stop squealing when she appears. Kasai gets an entire interview to herself in one of the other Extras (probably to sell more DVDs).
The ending of this series threw me for a loop. It had me reaching for my manga shelf – did the manga really end that way? Did the Korean film end like that? It's been years since I've consumed it in another format.
If I had any hesitation about the plot-content of this anime series, the packaging makes this purchase cross the line from rental into worthy of ownership. Right Stuf's sweet packaging includes a full-color booklet with mouth-watering descriptions of all the desserts in the show.[TOP]
I am continually frustrated by the sporadic English-language coverage of Fumi Yoshinaga on the internet. In 2008, Kate Dacey and I collaborated on this article about Yoshinaga so there would be at least one definitive list in English. If we didn't spell the title of Ōoku, her reverse-gender alternate history manga, with the standard Romanization, it was because at the time there was very little information about Ōoku on the English web.
Just now I had trouble finding a link with a trailer for the live action version of the Ōoku manga. I kept finding information on this long running Ooku TV series instead. Whatever. I have to go buy more copies of Not Love But Delicious Foods (Make Me So Happy) to give to friends. I'll see you next week.
This week's shelves are from Lewis in Tokyo, who wanted to show us the effects of the earthquake on his anime collection.
I just thought I'd put this out there with a link to #quakebook (http://www.quakebook.org/) to keep people's minds on helping however they can.
Here's a picture of my shelf in Tokyo just after the earthquake. Luckily, things are well built for earthquakes here in Tokyo, so this is the worst of it. I initially took this picture about an hour after the first earthquake to let friends know I was fine. My wife had it much worse, being on the 20th floor of her office building and then a long, long, long walk home with the subway shut down for the night.
This sprung us into action, so we've removed some of the figures from their packages and they are now nicely arraigned.
(photos 2, 3, 4, 5)
AS for DVDs, when we moved here several years ago, We shucked many of them from their cases and put them into these dvd folders to make room for our much smaller Tokyo apartment. Each folder holds 300 or so DVDs, so we have quite a bit. They're not all anime, but I'd so at least 80% are.
(photo 6, 7)
We kept some of our more favorite packages and have bought some more DVDs since moving here, putting them into these shelfs.
(photo 8, 9)
Life in Tokyo is muted right now, but we're all going forward and doing what we can to help the people who have suffered the most.
Thank you, Lewis.
Want to show off your shelves? Send your jpgs to [email protected] Thanks!