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Joined: 14 Jun 2008
Posts: 6536
Location: Melbourne, Oz
PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 2016 4:41 pm Reply with quote
@ Alan45,

They mightn't speak about it much but the outcome of WW2 must be etched deeply into the Japanese psyche.
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Village Elder

Joined: 25 Aug 2010
Posts: 9878
Location: Virginia
PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 2016 4:57 pm Reply with quote

That was about my take on it. I've always wondered if the war was related to their fondness in manga and anime for the "bad" ending. The idea that the good guys (that is your side) could actually lose and all would end in fire and destruction.

I'll never forget reading Outlanders first the aliens destroy Tokyo, then they blow Japan entirely off the globe. This is followed by the complete destruction of earth. Of all the characters only the earth hero and his alien girlfriend survive to the end. Interestingly in an epilog all their dead friends come back to visit on what I now recognize as Obon. Except they return literally.
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 26, 2016 3:55 pm Reply with quote
Five volumes of the Spice and Wolf novel series arrived from America this week. I'll finally find out what happens in Yoitz. Now the question is, how do I fit in anime watching with Holo's demands for my attention?

Anyway, back to the task at hand.

Blast of Tempest

Reason for watching: As with Sword of the Stranger, because director Masahiro Ando is at the helm of the successful Kickstarter project Under the Dog. When, late last year, Madman Entertainment released a complete edition I was able to order it for under AU$50.00.

Aika Fuwa
To sleep – perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil
Must give us pause.

Synopsis: Rather than a plot or scenario summary, here's a list of the major threads that entwine throughout the series before untangling at the end.
1. Schoolgirl Aika Fuwa is murdered while on her own at home late at night. The perpetrator leaves no clue behind.
2. The world's most powerful mage and princess of her clan, Hakaze Kusaribe, is stuffed in a barrel and marooned on a desert island by her treacherous brother after a clan dispute.
3. Aika's step-brother, Mahiro Fuwa, vows revenge upon her killer even if he must save, or destroy, the world to do so. When he finds Hakaze's enchanted message in a bottle they strike a deal where she will use her magic to find the murderer and he will retrieve her from the island.
4. Two immensely powerful forces - the Tree of Genesis and the Tree of Exodus are unleashed upon the earth. It is unclear whether they will bring peace and prosperity to the planet or blast all civilisation away.
5. Assorted Japanese military agents and members of the Kusaribe clan try to control the situation, to their advantage, as best they can.
6. Hakaze teams up with Yoshino Takigawa - former secret boyfriend to Aika and best friend to Mahiro - to solve the riddle of Aika's death and to find a happy ending to the story.

Comments: Blast of Tempest has a good story at its heart: the death of Aika Fuwa; the grief of her step-brother and her boyfriend; their different responses to that grief; their association with Hakaze; and her redemptive role in finding a resolution for them. If you concentrate on those elements the series may surprise you and it may move you. Unhappily, it is embellished with a crap story about the end of the world as we know it and an array of secondary characters who are, at best, boring and, at worst, cringe-inducing. Things aren't helped by a script that can plumb the depths of verbosity and banality. The constant allusions to and quotes from Shakespeare's Hamlet (the great revenge tragedy) and The Tempest (the great revenge tale with a happy ending) only serve to highlight its pretensions and its shortcomings. By all means leave those references in place - they are among its points of interest - but the prose of the anime doesn't match the poetry of its inspirations. Contrariwise, if Shakespeare doesn't float your boat, or if you aren't familiar with the references, then your viewing may be diminished.

This combination of the sublime and the ridiculous is characteristic of director Masahiro's collaborations with scriptwriter Mari Okada. You can also see it in CANAAN, where viscerally kinetic action sequences are spoiled by a poorly developed premise, clownish characters and juvenile humour, or Hanasaku Iroha, where a memorable character study is spoiled at times by some pointless, eye-rolling situations - the bondage session with the wannabe novelist being a case in point. The same problems can be seen in other Okada scripts, ie Toradora!, Gosick and the overwrought anoHana. Ando's Okada-less anime - Sword of the Stranger and Snow White with the Red Hair lack the rollercoaster changes in tone but are straightforward by comparison.

Hakaze Kusaribe
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The undermining of good premises is evident from the very start. The sexual tension of the opening scene between Aika, Mahiro and Yoshino - where it is immediately apparent that Aika is the most formidable personality of the three - cuts to Hakaze's escape from the barrel on the desert island. The sexual tension makes way for fanservice as the camera slowly, lasciviously gloats over her marooned body before revealing her face to us. Then for a brief moment she turns her head with a sequence of expressions that reveal her intelligence, her determination and her bitterness (see screenshot). Again it's back to banality as she melodramatically declares her defiance only to be undone by her complaining stomach. When she hangs her head in defeat and frustration I'm right with her, though for different reasons. It's a shame because Hakaze is a type of character I'm predisposed to like: an intelligent female with the strength of character to pursue the truth no matter what it may cost her personally. Her lapses into melodrama and clownishness spoil her but she is, on balance, one of the positives of the series. Her marooning on the island by her brother and her desire for a happy ending to her revenge story peg her as the Tempest's Prospero, a neat gender inversion.

The other members of the lead quartet - Mahiro, Yoshino and Aika are also positives. Mahiro's determination, his sharp intelligence and his unexpressed love for his step-sister belie his surface bully-boy personality. Indeed those redeeming qualities make his ferocity appealing. He is a wild, rather than a conscientious, Hamlet, more Mel Gibson than Laurence Olivier. There are also in him elements of the Tempest's Caliban, the beast-like son of the witch Sycorax. Kudos also to the series for ensuring his relationship with Aika is intense without becoming sleazy. Similarly impressive is his best friend, Yoshino - Horatio to Mahiro's Hamlet, Arial to Hakaze's Prospero and, perhaps, Ferdinand to Aika's Miranda. Yoshino is loyal yet devious, alluring to his female peers yet oddly effeminate, and foil to the other three. His Arial persona is perhaps the most intriguing. Although Arial is a male sprite in the Tempest, he has female characteristics. Traditionally, though not always, he has been played by female actors as a female character, deliberately obfuscating his gender. There are numerous time in Blast of Tempest where Yoshino is drawn with a feminine emphasis. It enhances his ambiguity which, in turn, suggests he may be more sinister than he appears.

Yoshino Takigawa and Mahiro Fuwa
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

The pick of the characters is Aika. She is only seen in flashbacks until episode 20 (and that's a convoluted sort of flashback in any case) and her absence is just one of the reasons she has such a powerful presence (if that oxymoron makes sense). We see her through the eyes of the two boys, who are beguiled by her and terrified of her. She cruels them with her wit and her scheming, yet all the while hinting at the reality of their situation with her Shakespeare allusions. She is at once witch (Sycorax - both characters die before the action of their respective stories takes place) and victim (Ophelia). She is characterised by a slight smile that suggests she is hiding something important and at other times she appears as if she is preoccupied with other matters. Her serene face in death (and there's a reason for that) makes her appear as if she were sleeping, a frequent analogy in Shakespeare (see the quotes under the screenshots). She ensures that the Aika/Yoshino/Mahiro tragedy is the heart of the series.

I won't dwell on the secondary characters who are pretty much a pack of clowns without a clown's benefits of providing amusment. Hakuze's brother Samon is a pompous ass, part Antonio (the Tempest), part Polonius (Hamlet). Other supporting characters may have Shakespearean analogues but, really, they aren't worth the effort figuring it out. Worst of them is Megumu Hanemura, the incompetent mage of the Tree of Exodus (Hakaze is the mage of the Tree of Genesis), who can be best described as Fate/Zero's Waiver Velvet but without an Alexander the Great to give him substance and without any redeeming character development.

It's not just the secondary characters. The series falls into some enormous pits. Worst is the five episode talkfight between Samon, Yoshino and Mahiro at Mt Fuji to conclude the first cour. It's drawn out far too long and Samon just isn't a good enough creation to make it work. So, yeah, this is seriously bad Emiya/Archer territory. Actually it's not quite as bad as Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Bladeworks. The verbal jousting does progress the plot steadily and there are numerous twists, even if the script seems to be besotted with its own ironies. Best of all, though, you get Hakaze at the end in a neat little time travel twist. Just the same, it should have been told in a fraction of the runtime it was. All the while there's floating eyeballs on stalks, a war going between two gigantic trees, the annihilation of the Japanese military, and everyone left and right turning into lumps of metal. It's meant to be terrifying, I think; it just comes across as silly.

Floating fruitball eyes
What seest thou else
In the dark backward and abysm of time?

The second cour starts off in much the same vein. Upon being introduced to the story, Hanemura does his best to bring it down. Hakaze falls in love with Yoshino and, like so many female characters in anime, is diminished by it. Her tendency to clownishness is given full rein over several episodes. Slowly, though, Blast of Tempest picks itself up. Like Ergo Proxy (though Blast of Tempest is the inferior show) it starts well, dips, then ends well. Best moment is in episode 20 when Hakaze uses her skeletal time travel abilities to prevent the murder of Aika. There she has a spine-tingling encounter on what seemed a deserted rooftop. The goosebumps weren't only caused by the suprise appearance of the other person. Who they were meant that, within a fraction of a second, all the pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place. I stopped the DVD to catch my breath. The implications cut to the heart of the tragedy. The scene is quite the contrast to the earlier verbosity. The shit had been washed away to reveal a nugget. Mari Okada is capable of this. In Toradora! she repeatedly transforms cliche into gems. If only it were consistently done here.

Soundtrack composer, Michiru Oshima, is an unheralded master. Her music is one of the few elements of Blast of Tempest that doesn't have significant lapses in quality. Reminiscence captures the aching loss that the boys feel for Aika, The Mage in the Barrel the dire situation that Hakaze finds herself in, and Aika the tragic choice she must make. If you can't put Oshima's name to anything, she did the soundtrack for Fullmetal Alchemist, including Bratja (Brother) and the beautiful theme song to Patema Inverted. Her range extends beyond melancholia, with some suitably dramatic pieces when called for.

Picture quality differed significantly between the two cours. The first is bright with sharp, smooth lines. The second had jagged diagonal lines, as if the files had a lower resolution than earlier. Perhaps sales of the first volume (or pre-orders for the second) meant that the second had a lower budget. Sounds like a question for Justin.

Rating: Decent. There's a good story here about grief, revenge and reconciliation with four appealing central characters, that is tarnished by deficiencies in the script, an unconvincing end-of-the-world scenario, and clownish supporting characters. I'm beginning to wonder if I've signed up to a dud with Under the Dog.

Last edited by Errinundra on Tue Oct 08, 2019 4:56 am; edited 2 times in total
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2016 8:27 pm Reply with quote
I saw this on Thursday evening after a trying day at work. Images are from the Funimation website gallery for the movie.

The Boy and the Beast

Reason for watching: Simple: it's directed by the reliably entertaining Mamoru Hosoda and I could see it subtitled at Cinema Nova in Carlton.

The venue: Cinema Nova is an odd place, located in fashionable Lygon Street, Carlton. I was a student at the University of Melbourne and living nearby in a shared house when it opened in the early nineties. It started off with two screens as an alternative/arthouse cinema in a shopping arcade. Burgeoning success has seen more and more screens added. It now has sixteen, all the while retaining its independent status. The place is a warren. Narrow passageways wander up and down and left and right, leading to tiny auditoria with seating for as few as perhaps forty people in some of them. Carlton - the first suburb north of Melbourne's Central Business District - while always dominated by the university, has long been a measure of the changing demograhics of inner Melbourne. In the post goldrush land boom in the 19th century it reflected the city's wealth, with broad avenues, grand terraced houses, the university and the stately world heritage Exhibition Building. The 1890s crash brought it down while the postwar flight to the suburbs reduced it to little more than a slum. Italian migrants to Australia in the fifties and sixties took advantage of the low real estate prices, which led to Carlton becoming the centre of Italian culture in Melbourne, something that is still apparent today. The then prime minister Gough Whitlam introduced free university education in the early seventies, bringing a new wave of students, academics and artists to the area. It became quite the Bohemia, as the youtube link suggests. Since then it has steadily grentrified; the bicycles and beat-up Volkswagens replaced by Mercedes Benzes and fashionistas.

Synopsis: Ren, a nine-year old runaway boy, finds a labyrinth of passageways leading from Shibuya to an alternative, simpler Tokyo inhabited by hybrid human/animals - furries, if you will. Here he meets the dissolute but immensely powerful man-bear, Kumatetsu, who is a candidate to be next lord of the realm, if only he could get his life in order. Kumatetsu takes on the boy as his pupil, even though he's never had one before, and re-names him Kyuta. The two bumble their way through life, each learning all the while how to become, respectively, father and son. The grounding they find will come in handy when they face their greatest trials.

Kumatetsu and Kyuta butting heads.

Comments: As with all Hosoda's movies, The Boy and Beast is, mostly, good-natured fun. No one is truly bad, though misfortune or bad choices may lead to characters behaving badly. This means that the viewer can be confident when the film starts that they are in for an entertaining ride but without any great rollercoaster alarms and without any complicated subtext. The Boy and the Beast doesn't disappoint. It's attractive to look at with a colourful palette, there's plenty of kinetic action sequences, the characters are quirky and the story is engaging without the message ever overwhelming it. If that sounds like I'm kind of disappointed with it then I have to admit that it is a step backwards from his prevous efforts. That's not to say it isn't an above average anime. It's just that I hope for more from Hosoda.

Kumatetsu and Kyuta are mirrors of each other: straightforward, brash, quick to anger, self-absorbed and smart. They each lack a sophisticated emotional language to express themselves. Kumatetsu has let his life go to waste. We can see that Kyuta could easily go the same way. If Nodame Cantabile creates its humour by pitting two very different characters against each other then the Boy and the Beast goes the opposite route with an abrasively similar pairing. Kumatetsu's and Kyuta's shared emotional deficiencies mean that Hosoda has two things he can work with: the comedy of their well-intentioned but uncomprehending interactions; and the basis of an exploration of what it is to be father and son. To understand the other is to understand the self. With that understanding comes a sense of place and a base on which to face the world. So, what we have is a shounen story at heart, not that different in essence to Boruto: Naruto the Movie. Again, I expect more that that.

Tatara and Hyakushubou: unintentionally helping the protagonists grow.

The supporting characters are likewise fun. Kumatetsu's offsiders, the placid monk/pig Hyakushubou and the indolent monkey Tatara provide an ironic commentary on the main pair while also contributing to Kyuta's development. Hyakushubou stepping out of character late in the film is an hilarious moment. Kumatetsu's rival for lordship, Iozen, is a man-boar who is, aptly, boorish. He has a heart of gold, however, and comes with his own parenting issues. For me, pick of the supporting characters are the Beast Lord - a cross between a rabbit and a catfish - and the human girl who befriends Kyuta. The Beast Lord pulls all the strings - with all the best intentions, mind you. His dithering, comical persona belies his capabilities. He has a disconcerting habit of instant transportation from one spot to another. This confounds the other characters, leading to moments of hilarious astonishment.

Kaeda, the girl Kyuta meets in a library in Tokyo, brings to the fore one of the deficiencies of the movie. Don't get me wrong, she's a good character, but she's the only female character. Her role is subordinate to Kyuta's. She will recognise his better nature, unconditionally support him in his crisis and be rescued by him. Yes, the Boy and the Beast is a male-focussed film, the counterpoint to Hosoda's female-centred Wolf Children. It speaks in a male language that is straight ahead, obvious and alludes to, rather than expresses, emotion. The language helps create the humour but it also rather dull. I'm drawn to anime because it is weird, unlike anything else. It's made by a mostly male creators for a mostly male audience. When it has female protagonists, which is unusual in western culture, anime is at its weirdest, it's most contrary, its most productive and its most inspirational. For all its production qualities, the Boy and the Beast is comparativiely prosaic. Admittedly, I may be indulging my own prejudices but the film's story can be seen in a million places elsewhere. It just has its anime stylistic approach.

Iozen: his adopted human son's wayward actions set up the film's climax.

Hosoda likes to end his flims with a bang. Here he has a shadow whale attacking Shibuya. Now that needs a little explication. Introduced to the novel Moby-Dick by Kaeda, Kyuta quickly grasps that the titular whale is a reflection of Captain Ahab. He also understands that the analogy can also be applied to himself and Kumatetsu. In addition, we will learn that Iozen - Kumatetsu's rival - has his own adoptive human son, Ichirohiko, who, likewise, is a reflection of Kyuta. Both are portrayed as having a gaping hole where their heart should be. (As a fatherless son it's a metaphor I've applied to myself on occasion, so I get it.) Ichirohiko pursues Kyuta from the beast realm to Shibuya where he finds the conveniently dropped novel, peruses its contents and decides to transform into a whale despite being a human in the human realm. It's a bizarre non-sequitur. What's more, the whole sequence seems tacked on to the narrative and superflous to the central story of Kyuta and his father figure. You can see the same thing in Summer Wars (the plunging space probe) and Wolf Children (the typhoon). My favourite Hosoda film remains The Girl Who Leapt Through Time because it has what I still think is his best character, Makoto, and because the story is his most organic. Then again, it was a loose adaptation of a Yasutaka Tsutsui novel, not an original story.

Rating: The low end of very good. That may seem generous but what The Boy and the Beast does well, it does very, very well: the visuals, the comedy, the characters, the action set pieces. These are undermined by a mundane father/son discourse, a lack of female characters and an odd tacked-on, albeit spectacular, ending.

Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 11, 2019 5:08 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2016 3:59 pm Reply with quote
This week's post is a house-keeping review from 15 January 2012, prompted by the recent ANN news item that the series is to get a release in America. I've upgraded the images to the thread 720p standard and added Reason for watching, Background and Rating paragraphs. The additional image and some of the extra material are adapted from an earlier post on 28 December 2011 (scroll down). There are some minor edits to improve how the review reads.

Dennou Coil

Reason for watching: Its glowing reputation and the chauvinistic pride in knowing we had it and you didn't. Well, that's about to change; and it's a good thing, really.

Background: There's a bit of a story to the release of Dennou Coil in Australia that Sam Pinansky revealed in response to a Twitter question in the ANNCast Stream It Again, Sam on 10 March 2012. According to Sam the international rights are held by the old-fashioned book publisher Tokuma Shoten whose requirements for a western release exceeded reasonable expectations. They are also the international rights holders for Legend of the Galactic Heroes, another series that has never been released in the west. Eric Cherry - a fan of the series and the then CEO of the Australian company Siren Visual (he later went on to found Hanabee) - pestered Tokuma Shoten for two years until he wore them down. It was finally released in Australia in two volumes in late 2011 - see image below - and a complete set the following year. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Siren Visual are probably the most interesting of the Australian distributors as they specialise in fringe DVDs of all genres, not just anime. Over the years they have pioneered a number of anime series that have subsequently been released in America: Dennou Coil, Usagi Drop (Bunny Drop in America), House of Five Leaves and Mononoke, to name just four. It's as if the American companies have used Siren Visual as a sounding board.

The Siren Visual release. Please overlook the shortcomings of this photo. It was taken with my mobile phone.

The original Australian release came in two volumes with the third disk in the second volume containing the extras: bonus episodes; preview screenings; press conference film; interviews with the main voice actors; TV shots; production shorts; and clean opening and endings.

Synopsis: In a near future Japan, people have ubiquitous and instant access - via special glasses -to the cyberworld thanks to an augmented reality that is layered upon the real world. Unlike most adults, children have taken to the technology with enthusiasm but, to the unwary who venture there, cyberspace might just turn out to be an eternal limbo. Among the children, an entire mythology has grown up around the cyberworld and its rumoured inhabitants.

Comments: Dennou Coil could be described as the spiritual child of the cyberpunk Serial Experiments Lain, although the "punk" part of the equation has been almost totally denatured. Even though it lacks Lain's attitude and weirdness, it is more emotionally engaging. The mysteries are somewhat easier to unravel and, unlike Lain, it doesn't rely on its strangeness for its appeal. (Once the scenario behind Lain is grasped it can be a bit of a chore to re-watch.) The rewards of Dennou Coil go beyond its sci-fi cyber elements, thanks to its marvellous array of characters and, especially in the second half, its escalating tension as the children get sucked into a vortex that began in their traumatic pasts. How it all comes together is compelling and coherent.

Pushing the drama along are the three remarkable girls: Yasako ("kind child") who cares deeply for her friends and has vague memories of something terrible happening to her in the cyberworld when she was younger; Isako ("brave child") who is wise beyond her years and who is desperate to bring her brother back from the "other side"; and Fumie, an imp prepared to take on anybody or anything but who goes weak at the knees at the merest hint of a scary story. The best word to describe them is "plucky". They have courage in spades and, consequently, it's impossible not to care for them. None of the three are static - one of the many pleasures of Dennou Coil is how they grow in maturity over the course of the story.

Yasako, Fumie and Isako. Look closely and you'll see cyberglasses resting on their foreheads.

The boys aren't quite so appealing. The tone of their characters is comparatively one dimensional. Yasako's love interest, Haraken, is so traumatised that he mostly comes across as a bit of a sook (understandably, though). Leader of the hacker club, Daichi, is mostly just brattish even if, like Haraken, he has an important role to play. The antagonist, Nekome, is the least convincing character, probably because he is the only one that remains unsympathetic to the end. Hacker club member, Denpa, is the pick of the male characters, with his shy and earnest kindness.

Whatever the level of complexity in the characters, one memorable feature of Dennou Coil is the enormous range of facial expressions that all the children have. I've never seen a television anime to match it. Not only is there a vast, and often subtle, array of emotions being displayed but, during conversations, the expressions change continuously. And it's all done with the simplest alterations in their peanut-shaped faces. Character designs are otherwise straightforward, albeit unusual for modern day anime.

The concepts involved in the augmented reality and in its glasses interface are fascinating. It relies on the same leap of faith as Serial Experiments Lain - that our minds can be directly linked to the cyberworld. It also relies on the same fallacy that underpins many a cyberpunk scenario - the Cartesian belief that our consciousness is separate from our body and thus conceivably can move into other spaces. Ghost in the Shell is another prime example that depends on this notion. It's a belief that lingers across cultures because it is central to many people's concept of choice and of religion. I recommend people read Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained where Descartes' philosophy is completely demolished. Consciousness is the expression of a functioning brain. You can no more remove consciousness from a brain than you can remove speed from a motorcycle. Of course, this is no more a leap in faith than alchemy in Full Metal Alchemist, or the mushi in Mushi-Shi or faster than light travel in many another sci-fi tale. Accepting the premise allows the viewer to immerse themselves in the pleasure of the storytelling. And there are many pleasures to be had in Dennou Coil.

I just want to make some comments about the music. The motif D-E♭-C-B is used throughout the series, especially when there is a sudden dramatic change in circumstances. A variation on these notes is also the basis of an extended musical theme that accompanies many of the more tense scenes. In German musical notation the four notes are written as D-Es-C-H (or DSCH) and is most associated with the composer Dmitri Shostakovich (ie, D Sch). He used it frequently in his music to represent himself in a totalitarian Soviet Union. It's a dismal sequence of notes (I don't mean that pejoratively) and, thanks to the allusion, whenever it is played in the anime, it strongly suggests the plight of the individual in overwhelming circumstances. (Something similar, but to opposite effect, occurs in Chihayafuru where a happy and sprightly motif is derived from the anime's title.)

Rating: the high end of excellent. When it is released by Maiden Japan in America I highly recommend you get yourself a copy. Dennou Coil is an immersive, compelling story with a trio of appealing young women, great visuals for its time and a fascinating quasi-cyber punk thematic framework but without the cyberpunk mannerisms you may expect and treated with a light touch.

Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 11, 2019 5:17 am; edited 3 times in total
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Jose Cruz

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Location: South America
PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2016 6:12 pm Reply with quote
I watched the first 6-7 episodes of it but found it boring. However, I feel the need to finish it now. It regularly shows up in favorite of the decade lists. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2016 6:19 pm Reply with quote

The first half is mostly light-hearted. Pick of those episodes is 12, Daichi's Hair Begins to Grow, a highly amusing fable on human hubris. It's worth checking out as a stand alone episode. The second half of the series ratchets up the tension.
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2016 2:30 am Reply with quote
Every 1 April (yep, April Fool's Day) all the highly regulated private health insurance companies in Australia increase their premiums after obtaining approval from the federal Health Minister. During March calls to the companies go ballistic, both in terms of numbers and in the attitudes of the policy holders. I work in the call centre of one such company where I've been doing an evening shift these past two weeks. To put it mildly, I'm crackered. If this review seems unfocussed or uninspired please put it down to my state of mind.

BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad

Reason for watching: There are a few anime watchers where I work. One of them suggested a recommendations swap, with this as his. My recommendation to him was Puella Magi Madoka Magica as he said he liked Cardcaptors (the bowdlerised version of Cardcaptor Sakura). He only got as far episode three. He tells me, Cardcaptors aside, he only wants to watch anime with male protagonists. My colleague is in his mid twenties. Other anime he has extolled are Haikyu!!, Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It seems PMMM was a miscalculation. But, episode 3? I mean to say. My comeback was that I preferred female protagonists. Yes, it takes all types.

Synopsis: Middle school student Yukio Tanaka (aka "Koyuki") befriends the Bohemian senior Ryuusuke Minami, a talented guitarist who has lived for years in America and who aspires to form his own band playing authentic, creative music. Over the next year or two Koyuki goes to high school, gets himself a girlfriend, learns guitar and discovers he has a natural bent for it, joins the band - now called BECK - and struggles, along with the other members, to establish a following in Japan. They dream of making it big in America.

Comments: The funny thing about this enjoyable series is, having finished it, my feeling is that, to invert a common expression, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Sure, a coming of age tale may not have resonance with an old fart like me and there are many memorable scenes, but (that killer word!) I imagine I'll move on and some day remember it as that "good show about a band". Maybe it's just that I'm not into sports anime and BECK fits that genre if you consider their music as a type of sport. There's competition, goals, failures, success, rivals, ornamental girls and a holy grail - America.

Four of the memorable characters in BECK. Four? Koyuki and the Stratocaster; Ryuusuke and Lucille.

You could say the same about the band itself. The singer aside - his voice lacks the power to carry it off - BECK is made up of talented musicians, yet the music they produce is rather bland, even if they demonstrably become a tight-knit ensemble by the end of the series. Band leader and guitarist Ryuusuke fuses grunge and blues, Koyuki leans towards ballads, bassist Taira funk and lead singer Chiba hip-hop. It's as if it all gets dropped into a blender and out comes a dollop of mono-flavoured confection. Listening to Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit between episodes emphasised how BECK fails to demonstrate how special they are supposed to be. They entirely lack the spark so apparent in Teen Spirit.

Nevermind. As characters in a story they work well. Point of view character, Koyuki, seems your average, mild, blend-into-the-crowd, anime protagonist. He even looks like he could be at the centre of a harem. (Maybe the band is his harem.) He gets bullied, doesn't know how to respond to overtures from the pretty Izumi and wonders if he has any special talents. His swimming pool victory shows, however, that he has mettle: a quiet vein of determination that will carry him through the bullying, allow him to master the guitar, and bring the band back together when it disintegrates. Likewise, Ryuusuke isn't how he first appears, but in a reverse sense. When Koyuki meets him he is laid-back and awe-inspiring. Over time Koyuki will also learn how much Ryuusuke cares for the band and also how vulnerable he is. The nonchalance isn't a mask covering his frailties. It's real - music is his first love, after all. That's a good thing: the resulting angst would have spoiled the optimistic tone of the series. Because of his confidence, it makes all the more powerful the moment when he realises how deep a pool of shit he has landed himself in by stealing Lucille. Unflappable Saku - both as drummer and as Koyuki's ally in a tight pinch - and steady, reliable Taira are the rhythm section glue for the band. They mightn't be in your face but they come across as real people, unlike the members of some more recent anime music ensembles. With four somewhat serious characters someone has to lighten things. This role is given to the clownish, monkey-like lead singer Chiba. Oddly enough I found him irritating. Not so odd, he always comes across - no doubt deliberately - as the outsider, the one who fits in the least, the most redundant member. With Koyuki's development as a singer - towards the end he demonstrates a nice blues rasp - I wonder if Chiba has much of a future with BECK.

My favourite character, which shouldn't surprise given what I wrote in the first paragraph, is Maho Minami, Ryuusuke's younger sister and slow-burn romantic interest for Koyuki. Maho is an appropriate name. She is something of a witch: elusive, enticing, magical, intimidating, doesn't dress to please, and has her own agenda. In other words, she embodies the desires and anxieties of the male protagonist. Don't get me wrong. She's a great character but she is, after all, an ornament to Koyuki's story, as are the other two girls who like Koyuki: Hiromi and Izumi. As a gymnast Hiromi provides Koyuki, and the viewer, ample opportunity to gaze upon her body. This is in every way, after all, a shounen story.

The elusive, beguiling Maho.

As a shounen story its progression isn't remarkable but it does have numerous stand-out scenes. Again, it's the parts being greater than the whole. I'll mention three:
1) The second guitar smashing scene. No, BECK isn't referencing the Who. Ryuusuke lends a much loved guitar to the neophyte Koyuki. As he's walking home he is cornered by his bullying nemeses from his school who smash the guitar, leading to a subsequent estrangement from Ryuusuke. Koyuki takes on a menial job to pay for it to be rebuilt. On the way home from the repair shop, with the freshly fixed guitar, he meets, you guessed it, those same bullies. Traumatic.
2) The first of the night swimming pool scenes. From the very start there is a degree of sexual frisson between Maho and Koyuki. One of the strengths of the series is that it portrays this through their actions rather than the anime standard blushing and bumbling. This is an exquisite example. Maho invites Koyuki to a nighttime assignation at their school swimming pool. When he arrives she undresses and jumps naked into the pool. He responds in kind. What do they do then? They sing together. It's brilliant and powerful. Their duet perfectly captures the full-on sexiness of the moment while also demonstrating the bond they are developing.
3) The entire Grateful Sounds sequence. In the wash-up of his theft of Lucille, Ryuusuke enters into an outrageously unfair record deal with underworld characters from the music business. When BECK scores a gig playing on the third stage at the prestigious Grateful Sounds pop festival they get the chance to back out of the deal if they can attract a bigger crowd than the simultaneously playing bands at the much larger first and second stages. The odds are stacked against BECK - the other bands are the event's number one international drawcard and the boy band of the moment with its obsessed female fans. How the whole sequence pans out is both unexpected and inspiring, especially when you know that BECK disbanded the day before. (The impact is spoiled somewhat by the following, and final, episode which tries to compress what should have been season two into one episode.)

Rating: I have a dilemma. When I compare BECK with all the anime I've rated as very good it feels like it doesn't deserve to be in their company, yet it seems better than most eveything I've rated as good. I'll put it in the latter category for the moment. BECK combines fun characters and some great set-piece scenes in an entertaining package that somehow doesn't have the conviction of its best elements.

Note: The mascot characters are a weird looking mongrel dog (he gives the band its name) and sulphur-crested cockatoo belonging to Koyuki's music teacher. Sulphur-crested cocakatoos are a common sight in the parks and gardens around Melbourne. They have a head shattering shriek that isn't captured at all in the anime.

Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 11, 2019 5:50 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2016 4:11 am Reply with quote
It's Thursday night, and finally, the Easter long weekend is here. What a relief.

Over the weekend I'll be adding the trilogy of reviews for this peculiar and multi-layered series. Part 1 was originally posted on 31 May 2012. I'm leaving this as it originally appeared, which is kind of appropriate for this singular anime.

Hyouge Mono episodes 1-14

One of the ongoing anime frustrations for me over the last year has been the painfully slow fansubbing of this title. If ever there was a case of fansubbing being justified then surely this is it. There is absolutely no possibility of the series ever being released as a stream, let alone on DVD or BD. Only 14 episodes have been subbed so far (out of either 37 or 39) - at the rate of just over one a month.

A fanciful telling of the final years of the Warring States period, Hyouge Mono deserves to be seen by a wide audience, which is not necessarily the normal anime demographic. Although it takes considerable liberties with the historical record (each episodes bears the warning, “The following tale is a work of pure fiction”), all the characters are based on actual historical figures - even the lowly Governor, Sasuke Furuta, through whose eyes we see the tale unfold.

The main characters from left to right:

Furuta Sasuke (Shigenari): his pursuit of beautiful objects drives his ambitions as a loyal retainer of Oda Nobunaga.

Oda Nobunaga: The flamboyant warlord on the verge of unifying Japan and with dreams of conquering the Chinese Ming dynasty.

Senno Soeki: Oda Nobunaga’s inscrutable tea master, subtly fomenting revolt against his patron.

Hashiba (Toyotomi) Hideyoshi: Oda’s clownish and deceitful general who seeks power for himself to subjugate all of Japan.

Akechi Mitsuhide: Oda’s dignified general who, above all, seeks to pacify warring Japan.

Tokugawa Ieyasu: the down to earth, modest general, waiting in the wings for his opportunity, who in time will finally establish the Tokugawa Shogunate and unite Japan.

Two of the problems for a neophyte like myself are an ignorance of Japanese history and in following the complex scheming by the main characters. Matters aren’t helped by episodes becoming available on only an irregular basis. There is no doubt that re-watching the 14 episodes helped my appreciation enormously. Presumably the intended Japanese audience already has a basic knowledge of their own history. Knowing that history doesn’t spoil the story as each of the figures is treated as tragic in the Greek or Shakespearean sense (despite the copious humour). Knowing the outcome actually creates a palpable sense of dread. Wikipedia also helps. Each scene is identified by its location, more often than not a castle. Looking up the characters and the locations on Wikipedia always provided a useful context for the events taking place on the screen. This may seem a lot of work, but the anime rewards the effort.

The basic history is that Oda Nobunaga rose to be the pre-eminent daimyo in Japan through a series of military campaigns. General Akechi betrayed him at Honno Temple, forcing him to commit seppuku. Akechi then found himself in a weak military position that both Hashiba Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu sought to exploit. General Hashiba won the race to engage Akechi in battle and defeated him. This is the point the series reaches by episode 14. So far the series makes one radical departure from accepted history that I won’t spoil and presumably takes liberties with the personalities of the principal players.

All this is seen through the eyes of Governor Furuta Sasuke, aesthete and connoisseur of the tea ceremony. (My appreciation of this tradition was helped enormously by observing a tea ceremony recently at a Japanese festival here in Melbourne. All the movements and the procedures were exactly as shown in the anime. The tea itself is foamy and was strange to my palate.) From what I can gather from translation sites on the web “hyouge” (ひょうげ) can mean “expressive, critical or joking” while “mono” in this instance probably means “man”. The title is clearly a reference to Furuta, whose exaggerated facial expressions highlight the many absurdities around him.

Tea ceremony - in Melbourne of all places.
All the implements on the tatami mat feature heavily in the series

Absurdity is the flip side of tragedy and Hyouge Mono revels in that contrast. The contrast is played out through the military and political ambitions of the generals and the aesthetics of the tea ceremony (particularly the visual appeal of the various implements used). This play creates a sense of fatalism, that the machinations of these men are ultimately pointless. All the characters are absurd, even the dignified Akechi who may not be funny but who naively believes that peace can be brought to the warring states of Japan through justice. History shows that peace was attained via the sword.

In Koichi Mashimo, Hyouge Mono has the perfect director to explore these elements. Straight faced absurdity has long been one of his defining characteristics, something he hasn’t given full reign to since The Irresponsible Captain Tylor. It invariably seeps out into his other works – think of Kirika shooting 40 men on the steps of a Chinese temple in Noir – often to their detriment. It seems he simply can’t help himself sometimes. Here it is entirely appropriate and gives the story an ironic edge that it wouldn’t have were it a straight out historical drama. (I’m currently also watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes which has many similar themes but, lacking the comic edge, seems bland and simplistic in comparison, though it is a fine series on its own terms.) Having never read the original manga, I have no idea if the absurdity is faithful to the source, although the title suggests it is.

The death of Oda at Honno Temple is a perfect example of how the blending of the absurd and the tragic works so effectively. After receiving an appalling injury he proceeds to do the impossible. The overarching tone of rhetorical excess allows his actions to appear as a magnificent gesture of one man’s will. Despite the implausibility it’s a brilliant scene.

Amidst the ruins of Honno Temple Furuta contemplates a bleak future without a patron.

Mashimo also indulges his penchant for Christian themes – here personified by one of Furuta’s brothers-in-law, a military commander and convert who is trying to save Furuta’s soul. (That’s another confusing thing it took me a while to get my head around – there are two brothers-in-law, one the husband of his sister, the other the brother of his wife. Both create clan loyalty dilemmas for Furuta.) So far the Christian themes are a source of irony and I’m intrigued to see how they play out. I hope they don’t become as glib as their use in Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom.

Getting back to Furuta, his tragedy is that, for all his smarts, he hasn’t a clue what’s going on. He’s us, the everyman, and I’m reminded of the Bob Dylan line, “and something is happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr Jones?” One of the most poignant scenes so far is Furuta’s realisation in the midst of the battle between Akechi and Hashiba that he has completely misread the two men. The irony, of course, is that his miscalculation has ensured his survival. Both Oda and Senno read him like a book, at one point even using his outrageous tastes in a calculated insult to Togukawa. It’s clear that Oda indulges Furuta because he is both reliable and amusing.

I also want to mention the incredible conversations between the tea master, Senno Soeki and several of the characters including Furuta and the generals Akechi and Hashiba. They take place during tea ceremonies and are heavy in hints, suggestions and double meanings without ever overtly mentioning betrayal or revolt. Nevertheless the underlying suggestiveness is apparent to each of the characters and to the viewer. They are marvellous examples of writing.

Should this anime live up to the promise of the first 14 episodes then I believe it will be Mashimo’s greatest series. It isn’t for everybody: there are no cute high school girls (in fact, so far, women only play a marginal role), no zombies, no vampires, not much action and lots of talking heads. The heavy irony will make the series opaque to some, the comically expressive faces and ridiculous clothes will annoy others, and the archaic speech will frustrate yet others.

Rating so far: somewhere around excellent to masterpiece. There's a long way still to go, of course. At this rate it could be two years or more.

Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Feb 01, 2020 4:12 am; edited 3 times in total
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2016 6:39 am Reply with quote
Are we the only two people in the forums who have finished Hyouge Mono? Because it often feels like it.

Damn shame, really. The show deserves far, far more love and attention that what it has gotten.
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 25, 2016 7:01 pm Reply with quote
There's also yuna49, while Lynzee Loveridge included it in one of their lists. Anyway, here's part 2, which I originally posted on 7 April 2013, which, if you compare the original post date of the review above, indicates how slowly this was being fansubbed. The only change is I've removed a link in the first paragraph as it's already in the post above.

Hyouge Mono episoses 15-25

Reason for watching: It's directed by Koichi Mashimo, it's targeted at an adult audience and the first 14 episodes were brilliant.

Synopsis: Following the death of Oda Nobunaga and the defeat of General Akechi Mitsuhide, General Hashiba Toyotomi travels to the imperial capital at the peak of his power and granted the title of Chief Advisor to the Emperor. Areas of Japan still remain to be subdued so Hashiba sends Governor Furuta to his most dangerous rival, General Tokugawa Ieyasu, to make a truce. At his home in Osaka Hashiba finds himself increasingly dependent on the tea master Senno Soeki and, misunderstanding Senno's principles of imperfection as the goal of an aesthete, announces the Kitano Tea Ceromony where nobles and tea masters will compete for the honour of conducting the best tea ceremony. Seeing the competition as an opportunity to gain immortal fame Furuta takes Senno's notions to absurd lengths.

Left to right:

Furuta Sasuke aka Oribe: Bound uneasily to Hashiba, he is a skilled negotiator even though he can't see the big picture.

Osen: Furuta's loyal wife; in his dealings with his family and subjects we see Furuta's human side. Those eyes are creepy.

Hashiba Toyotomi: His insecurity lies at the heart of his self-aggrandisement.

Senno Soueki aka Ryuki: On a personal mission to convert Japan to his aesthetic ideals.

Hechikan: The rustic tea master who takes the mickey out of everyone.

Tokugawa Ieyasu: Sidelined by Hashiba he bides his time and begins to build a rapport with Furuta.

Happily a new group has taken over fansubbing the otherwise unavailable Hyouge Mono. My fears of never finishing this fascinating and singular series have been allayed now that all but the last episode are available with subs, with the last one due any day. I may add that the new fansubbers seem to have a better idea of what's going on than their predecessors. Anyway, these episodes - a sort of interbellum - tell a more or less complete story arc on their own, climaxing in the Kitano Tea Ceremony where Furuta makes a complete ass of himself.

The title of the series could be interpreted as "buffoon" and one would be tempted to apply the moniker to Furuta who by now is commonly referred to by his new title, Oribe, bestowed upon him by Hashiba, though chosen by Furuta. His new name demonstrates his inability to see to the truth behind appearances. A Japanisation of the English name "Olive", Furuta thinks it sounds impressive without being overly pompous. It also suits his penchant for dressing in green (I'm sure there's a joke there, as well). Only we know, however, that it is a woman's name. Yet, the title of buffoon could just as well be applied to every male character in the story. General Hashiba, ever seeking to boost his self-importance gets more and more ridiculous as time goes on, becoming a vain (and even more tasteless) parody of the man he overthrew, Nobunaga. Sometimes I think his buffoonery is a weapon to subjugate and humiliate his rivals but his continuing aesthetic cluelessness always manages to convince me otherwise. A new character, the hermetic Hechikan, elevates buffoonery to an art form. So much so that his actions amount to insolence. He has a pit of dirty water outside his tea rooms that all his self-important guests ritually fall into. At the Kitano Tea Ceremony he serves watery barley tea to Hashiba accompanied by lewd references to his wife. As is his wont when confused, Hashiba declares Hechikan as the winner only to change his mind when Furuta makes a pathetic intervention.

Two characters may seem to stand above the absurdity - the simple (but not simple-minded) and prudent Tokugawa and the austere tea master Senno. Not so. Tokugawa is reduced to moony-eyed stupidity when he meets Hashiba's homely but neglected wife (something that the crafty Furuta is quick to take advantage of) while Hechikan so mercilessly pricks Senno's pomposity that the latter discards his black robes and begins to do things for "fun". Hyouge Mono is telling us that Japan of the warring states period was run by a pack of fools. They knew how to gain and use power, they knew how to wage war, but they didn't have a clue about doing anything worthwhile, demonstrated by their vain (in both senses of the word) pursuit of aesthetic self-affirmation.

Fururata is a study in paradox, at once both crafty and foolish. When he relies on his intuition with human behaviour and motivations he can convince people to do just about anything. His self-restraint, in the face of provocation when negotiating the truce between Tokugawa and Hashiba, impresses the former to the point of declaring that Furuta Sasuke may be someone special. Yet, Furuta's obsession with the tea ceremony, it's implements and the notion that true aestheticism must demonstrate the transience of life through imperfection, reaches the level of sheer idiocy.

Oribe. With new fansubbers it's good to see the series striding forward once more.

Through all of this Hyouge Mono continues its enthralling dialogues between the main characters, with all their undercurrents of threat, treachery, double-meanings and incitements. All the while the writers and director subtly allow the viewer to see how pointless, how ridiculous and how dangerous it all is. The series oozes irony, like no other anime I've ever seen. This isn't a show for adolescents (or adults who are adolescent at heart) who want their hormones excited. This is a witty and pitiless examination of the barely disguised brutality of the men competing for power in one of the most violent times in Japan's past. History tends to glorify the exploits of these men. Hyouge Mono gives them the merciless lampooning they arguably deserve even more.

The artwork is Mashimo handsome although some of the CG created objects sit uncomfortably in their settings. Compared witht the rest of the artwork, the tea ceremony implements are rendered almost photographically. This may be a deliberate ploy to accentuate the unreality of the importance attached to these objects. If so, it's a creative idea that doesn't really work aesthetically (yuk! yuk!). The music from Kou Otani is used sparingly but usually to good effect.

War is ever on the horizon. Hashiba's unpleasantly conservative lieutenant Ishida Mitsunari manages to effortlessly threaten everyone while Tokugawa Ieyasu is yet to make his move. Already in the following three episodes the short peace of the Kitano Tea Ceremony is giving way to new military campaigns.

Rating: I'll save my rating until I've finished. These episodes don't match the best of the first fourteen but they continue to be unlike anything else you might see in anime.

Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 11, 2019 6:14 am; edited 3 times in total
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2016 12:58 am Reply with quote
What a great pair of reviews, Errinundra! I've written about Hyouge Mono in recommendations threads, but it's really hard to summarize such a complex and expansive work as Hyouge Mono. You did yourself proud with these.

The original series of fansubs came from a "one-man band," and the pressures of translating this difficult script and producing the fansubbed versions eventually got the best of him. At one point I was considering recruiting some people to finish the series using the Chinese release, but luckily another group came along at just the right time. I suspect the script itself posed a difficult job of translation since I believe it employs an older and more formal version of Japanese quite unlike the simpler banter of shows set in the contemporary period. The second translator considered it perhaps the most difficult project he had ever undertaken.

And, yes, Osen has some of creepiest eyes I've ever seen in anime!

My one regret is that no one has provided English subtitles for the shorts the NHK ran after the anime episodes that showed the actual masterpieces like the tea jars. I watched a couple of them, but even after a decade of watching anime I still have too limited an understanding of spoken Japanese to make much sense of them. They were included with the Chinese fansub and are worth a quick look just to see the actual objets d'art shown in the anime.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2016 5:53 pm Reply with quote
Thanks for your kind words, yuna49. Here's part 3, originally posted on 15 April 2013. I've edited links, added some images and done some minor changes to improve how it reads and to get my intentions across more clearly.

Hyouge Mono episoses 26-39

Reason for watching: Because the first 25 episodes proved Hyouge Mono to be unlike any other anime I've ever seen. It is also the most interesting and most layered anime I've ever seen. And, finally, it's the only anime whose primary target audience is old farts like me.

Synopsis: In the wake of the great Kitano Tea Ceremony Hechikan has forced tea master Rikyu to admit to himself the monstrosities he has committed in pursuit of his ideals, while Rikyu, in turn, has made Furuta realise that he (Furuta) is an imitator and a fake. Toyotomi, now the most powerful man in Japan, sets about subduing the last resisting Daimyo - principally the Hojo and Date clans - as a prelude to invading Korea, China and perhaps even India. His power depends on the support of many Daimyo, not the least of whom is Tokugawa, whose straightforward intelligence and honesty set him apart from his rivals. Toyotami's baleful lieutenant, Ishida, seeking to destroy the influence of Rikyu and the other aesthetes, incites Toyotami to behead one of the tea master's proteges. This, along with information from Tokugawa about the truth of events after the assassination at Honnoji Temple, brings home to Rikyu the folly and failure of his ambitions and the terrible errors he has made in promoting Toyotomi's rise. Changing his allegiance, he begins to plot the downfall of the emperor's "Chief Advisor". Meanwhile Furuta finds himself with a dilemma. His pursuit of his aesthetic ideals can only be financed by his role as a warrior under Toyotomi even though the two notions are frequently at odds. This contradiction comes to a dreadful climax when Toyotomi orders Furuta to betray his cherished ideals in the most horrifying way imaginable.

Warning. Somewhat spoilerific. All the characters are based on real life people. Note that the events of the series only cover the period 1577 to 1591. My short descriptions below cover their lives more generally. The background is the warring states period. In the earlier episodes, the dominant daimyo Oda Nobunaga had been betrayed at Honnoji Temple (history blames his general Akechi while Hyouge Mono fingers Toyotomi acting under the encouragement of Rikyu) enabling Toyotami to take his place as the most powerful warlord in Japan.

Top row (L-R):

Furuta Oribe (1544 – 1615): Retainer and warrior for both Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, he would go on to become the most influential tea master after the death of his mentor, Sen no Rikyu. He also introduced a new, bold style of pottery that became much prized and imitated, even to this day. Many years after the events of the series he found himself in a compromising political situation and was forced to commit seppuku by the second Tokugawa shogun. In the series he is an obsessive aesthete struggling to find his own creative voice. He is also a cunning negotiator. Where his peers win castles through bloody battle, he wins them through bluff, cajolery and sheer chutzpah.

Date Masamune (1567 – 1636): Rascally warlord who initially resisted Toyotomi but was eventually convinced to support him. A brilliant strategist, he served under both Toyotomi and later under the Tokugawa shogunate. In the series Furuta twice saves his skin by convincing him to perform outrageous acts of public humiliation.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536 – 1598): The second of the three great unifiers of Japan (between Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu) toward the end of the warring states period. After the events of the series he went on to unsuccessfully invade Korea. Upon his death his surviving son, Hideyori, was still underage, leaving a power vacuum in Japan.

Middle row:

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 – 1616): Founded Edo (depicted in the series and later to become Tokyo). Although he supported Toyotomi his ambitions could no longer be constrained after Toyotomi's death. He eventually became shogun and completed the unification of Japan. The series portrays him as honest, simple in taste and, perhaps a little ironically, driven by a desire to bring peace and prosperity to the war torn country.

Sen no Rikyu (1522 – 1591): At the centre of all the machinations of Hyouge Mono he was the tea master to both Oda Nobunaga and Toyotami Hideyoshi. An adherent of the principle of wabi-cha - simplicity, honesty and directness - he was to become the inspiration and fountainhead for all the main Japanese tea ceremony schools. These episodes depict his falling out with Toyotomi and their terrible consequences.

Chacha (1569 – 1615): Niece of Oda Nobunaga, concubine - then later wife - of Toyotomi, and mother of his heir, Hideyori. When Tokugawa became shogun, she and Hideyori committed suicide.

Bottom row

Yamanoue Soji (1544 – 1590): Protoge of Sen no Rikyu whose writings on the tea ceremony fell into the hands of Ishida Mitsunari, giving the latter a pretext to persecute the aesthetes.

Ishida Mitsunari (1559 – 1600): Talented but unpopular samurai and bureaucrat in the Toyotami government, known for his rigid behaviour. After the death of Toyotami he effectively controlled the government. He drove the daimyo into an alliance with Tokugawa who defeated him in the Battle of Sekigahara. Following the battle he was captured by villagers and beheaded. In the series he is the implacable enemy of the aesthetes.

Hojo Ujinao (1562 – 1591): The last leader of the Hojo clan. The series depicts the siege of his castle at Odawara by Tokugawa under the overall authority of Toyotomi. After the siege his father and uncle were forced to commit seppuku but, being married to Tokugawa's daughter, he was released into exile where he died.


In episode 28 Tokugawa introduces Furuta to his ten year old son and asks the aesthete to school his son in the ways of the capital, Kyoto. Furuta initially addresses the young man by his given name but is corrected - the Chief Advisor Toyotomi had given him the new name Hidetada. When Furuta compliments the young man on this warlike sounding name, Hidetada ignores him. The camera first lingers on the nonchalantly eating young man then on Furuta's puzzled face. Furuta then offers Hidetada two wooden tea scoops, directing him to choose one after giving it some consideration. One scoop has a lump in the handle caused by a knot in the wood, while the other is flawless. To the aesthete the knotted scoop represents the ideal of imperfection. As Furuta leaves we see the young man diligently practising his sword techniques. We also see that he has broken the knotted scoop in two.

The broken tea scoop sets an ominous tone: the aesthetes have a knotty future.

The scene is a good example of how Hyouge Mono works. Don't forget that the series is directed by Koichi Mashimo with a script by Hiroyuki Kawasaki, whose collaborations are notable for their deadpan irony. With the utmost economy, a number of important things are established here. On the surface, the discussion seems mundane - a simple transaction between a father and mentor concerning the education of a young man expected to become a future leader. The words as translated in the fansub don't seem particularly witty nor is there any apparent hidden meaning to them. Oh, but the scene is replete with undercurrents. Furuta is pursuing the ideal of imperfection - wabi-cha - that authenticity in life acknowledges that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. The knotted scoop represents this aesthetic notion. The young warrior and future shogun represents an entirely different perspective - simplicity. The scoop and the sword are each a means to an end and no more. Anything else is pretense. The broken scoop signifies the young man's complete rejection of Furuta's world view. Or, to look at it another way, Tokugawa Snr and Togukawa Jnr have an innate grasp of wabi-cha that is eluding both Rikyu and Furuta.

But there's even more going on here. The uncomfortable moment when Hidetada ignores Furuta had me wondering whether something I didn't know about was being hinted at here. To top of it off, the swinging sword and broken scoop gave the scene an ominous tone that had me curious. Afterwards I checked out what happened to Furuta and Hidetada and learned that, some 26 years after this scene, Tokugawa Hidetada, second shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty will order Furuta to commit seppuku. In this scene not only do we get a general illustration of the clash between aesthetic and martial values but we get a particular hint at the tragedy awaiting Furuta, even if that fate awaiting him doesn't take place until many years after the events of Hyouge Mono.

At its core, Hyouge Mono is high tragedy in the classical Japanese or Greek or Shakespearean sense. At the centre of the tragedy is Sen no Rikyu, the classical tragic hero, whose flaw - hubris - leads him to destruction. The point of view character, Furuta, is a variation on the theme. While he isn't destroyed by his flaws, the death sentence given to Rikyu, whom he idolises as his hero, is his moment of crisis. The term crisis is Greek and in classical Greek tragedy it is the moment when the events of the narrative present the character with a choice of paths to take. In tragedy the hero chooses the wrong path. In comedy the hero choses the correct path. (In Greek theatre a tragedy was simply a play with an unhappy ending while a comedy was a play with a happy ending. That distinction has long since changed in the English language. By the way, Koichi Mashimo has far more western influences in his anime than most, if not all, other anime directors.) For his part, Rikyu's crisis arrives when he is ordered to give his adopted daughter and his prized tea kettle to Toyotomi. Much of the power and poignancy of these crises for the two main characters comes because they are preceded by moments of clarity where Rikyu and Furuta reach new levels of self-awareness that give them a degree of contentment hitherto eluding them.

(On another level the series could be seen as the tale of one aesthetic style, Furuta's flamboyant Oribe-yaki, superseding Rikyu's older, more austere, style of Raku-yaki. But that's Hyouge Mono for you: layer upon layer upon layer.)

Sen no Rikyu becomes Buddha-like as Hyouge Mono reaches its ghastly culmination.

Over 39 episodes, there is scene after scene like the one with Furuta and Hidetada, where characters talk and interact on one level but so much is happening under the surface. Two characters may seem to be discussing the decorations of the room while they sip tea but in reality it is code for how one wants the other to make a political or military move against a third character. It may be one person making a pointed commentary on the character of the other. Part of the genius of the series is that once the viewer has sorted out who is who and their significance in the historical context (admittedly that requires some effort but the rewards will come) then the subtext and the double meanings are quite clear. And the stakes are very high. We are talking politics, war, assassination, seppuku and beheadings. Serving a dish of pineapple and cream can be a pre-meditated insult from one daimyo to another. Putting a statue in a temple can lead to seppuku. Under all the talking and all the argy-bargy is an undercurrent of extreme violence. This is the warring states period, after all.

In the same way that dtm42's description of Hyouge Mono being nothing but talking heads undersells the series (although he is being intentionally ironic in true Mashimo style) then Lynzee Lamb's description of it in The List as "historical comedy" also misses the point. For sure, the series can be funny but it isn't comedy for its own sake; the jokes aren't just there for the laughs. The style of comedy is absurdity and it is working largely in the service of tragedy. It's not inserted just to soften the tragedy (which it does) nor is it simply there for ironic effect (though it is highly ironic) but it represents the fatalistic side of tragedy: that all our effort is ultimately in vain. Another classic absurd tragedy, Barry Lyndon, ends with the wonderful line, "It was in the reign of George III that the above-named personages lived and quarrelled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now." That is, they are all dead. You could replace George III with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and it could be a perfect final line for Hyouge Mono. Mind you, where Barry Lyndon kind of peters out, Hyouge Mono ends with shattering power - one of the best ever endings in anime (even if Mashimo and Kawasaki still can't resist throwing in the odd gag). Furuta Oribe has faced his crisis and will flourish for the next 20 years or more and leave a lasting impact on Japanese culture. For him, the moment is both appalling and liberating.

Dawn arrives as Oribe faces the future with a head-spinning trophy under his right arm.
The gut-wrenching climax segues into an inspirational Kou Otani musical postlude.

If the preceding episodes (15-25) had emphasised the comic side of Hyouge Mono (and lacked the impact of earlier and later episodes) then these last magnificent episodes return to the waging of war and the naked use of power in a violent era. By presenting the political manouvering through the filter of the aesthetics of the tea ceremony we get a commentary on both - we see how pretentious and ultimately pointless they both are. If the absurdity here is in the service of tragedy then both are in the service of satire. A kind of intellectual enso, you might say. For satire to be effective there must be an overt or implied alternative to the subject of scrutiny, or it remains mere sarcasm, a la Katsuhiro Otomo. In Hyouge Mono that alternative appears in the ideals of justice as voiced by General Akechi and in Tokugawa Ieyasu's dream of building the city of justice (that will, in time, become Tokyo). I have to admit that the Edo building scenes with Tokugawa staring heroically into the distance in the finest Soviet statuary tradition after toiling side by side with his workers got a tad hammy. The stirring, sentimental string music emphasised the cheesiness, which had me suspecting that Mashimo was doing one of his habitual leg pulls. Nevertheless, continuing on the Greek tragedy theme, this yearning for justice amidst violence parallels the journey from revenge to justice in Aeschylus's The Oresteia. Yes, Hyouge Mono is that ambitious. I keep telling you, this is no ordinary anime.

Hyouge Mono has the perfect director in Koichi Mashimo. It is as if he were born to direct this series. Not since The Irresponsible Captain Tylor in the early 90s has his penchant for absurdity been given such free rein. He has the ability to be simultaneously po-faced, over the top, and yet profound. Sure there are the expected Mashimo lapses of judgement and times where I feel I'm just not getting the point but there are none of the times where it seems he's just going through the motions so evident in El Cazador de la Bruja or the latter parts of Phantom ~ Requiem for the Phantom. For the first time since Noir it feels as if he is fully committed to the project. Like Noir there is a powerful redemptive element to Hyouge Mono for, despite the terrible climax, the series ends on a hopeful note. Furuta knows what he is, what he must do to be what he is, and how he fits into the wider scheme of things. The long night of horror gives way to a new dawn as Osen, his wife, watches two birds of prey circling above. One bird is caught silhouetted by the sun and the anime transforms the image into a beautiful enso painted on pottery in the Oribe-yaki style. Furuta Oribe has found his true voice. Two of the episodes of Mashimo's Blade of the Immortal contain similar stories about artists trying to find their artistic voice. In Hyouge Mono Mashimo has found his.

Rating: masterpiece.

Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Feb 01, 2020 4:28 am; edited 5 times in total
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2016 6:16 pm Reply with quote
Well, if Ko Otani composed the OST, then I guess I'll have to watch it, even if much of the series goes over my head.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2016 11:12 pm Reply with quote
His score is quite idiosyncratic as well with themes often at odds with the events being depicted. One such scene occurs early in the series during Furuta's first visit to Nobunaga's castle which has an abundance of artwork everywhere. Otani's score is strangely upbeat and syncopated rather than the more "serious" orchestral music often heard during a scene showing a powerful warlord and revelling in his artistic tastes.

Before watching this, I suggest reading a bit about the Sengoku period and particularly the events at Honnouji Temple. Wikipedia has some pretty good summaries. I first watched Hyouge Mono not knowing any of the "official" history, so I didn't see how the show diverged from canon. It also helps to have some sense for the identities of the major players since the cast is large. Most of them are probably well-known to educated Japanese viewers, but for a gaijin like me it was tough to keep them all sorted out. Also it's hard to know where the line between history and fiction lies in Hyouge Mono. For instance, I still don't know whether the depiction of Date Masamune as a buffoon represents the historical consensus about his character or just an invention by the manga-ka.

To give another example, I knew that Furuta was forced to commit seppuku, but I only just learned from Errinundra's review that the order came from Hidetada and thus provides the context for the scenes between the future Shogun and Furuta.

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