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Errinundra's Beautiful Fighting Girl #133: Taiman Blues: Ladies' Chapter - Mayumi


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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 08, 2016 6:05 pm Reply with quote
This week's review is based on a post I wrote back on 21 April 2012 - just shy of four years ago. I've chosen it because it has much in common with Michiko & Hatchin, which I've almost finished viewing for the second time. I think discussing them in consecutive weeks will be illuminating.

As with most other housekeeping reviews I've formatted it to suit the thread and updated the images. I've also made some changes to the text - both additions and omissions.

****

El Cazador de la Bruja


Nadie: its's not often you get an anime protagonist who is female and Latin American.
The image captures her bravado while also hinting at her comedic side.


Reason for watching: Simple. I'm a completionist, so I was obliged to round out Koichi Mashimo's Girls with Guns trilogy from Bee Train. Noir has long been a favourite, whereas Madlax was a frustration and a disappointment.

Synopsis: Amnesiac Ellis is an escaped laboratory subject, and latent witch, who has been captured by a bounty hunter named Nadie (Spanish for "nobody"). Events lead Nadie to help Ellis find the mythical Wiñay Marka (Eternal City) where Ellis hopes to find out what she is and what happened at the laboratory. On their journey they are pursued by rival bounty hunters, a psychotic young man obsessed by Ellis and a mysterious older man accompanied by a pre-school age girl. All the while they are constantly monitored by the supervisor of Ellis's laboratory as well as attracting the attention of a witches' coven. Their flight will take them through a fictional landscape suggestive of the southern states of America and also Mexico, through to the Yucatan Peninsula.

Comments: El Cazador is a laid back 26 episode extended road movie and po-faced comedy where the absurd is constantly presented matter of factly. The foregrounded use of comedy sets this apart from its predecessors. El Cazador is mild-mannered when compared with the slaughterfest that is Noir and the civil war brutality of Madlax. Most of the gunplay - especially Nadie's - involves threats and disarming, usually without serious injury. Nadie is no Mireille Bouquet who guns down people by the score. When, in episode 6, Nadie actually shoots 3 other bounty hunters dead (and perhaps also her ex-lover Miguel - it isn't revealed who kills him), it comes as a shock. The goofy good humour is quickly restored however, which is at odds with this level of violence or with Ellis's disturbing backstory. El Cazador is never quite sure where the the boundary is between comedy and drama with sometimes bizarre results.


Love the hair and the outfit, despite the shortcomings in the figure's ahoge and the sloppy paint job.
Nadie has the most appealing character design of all Mashimo's heroines.


Mashimo and Bee Train have avoided one of the faults of Madlax where the large number of important characters meant that none of the relationships were explored as much as they may have been. Here, the supporting characters know their place, allowing the central pair to dominate the spotlight, as they should. Nadie is, as I've said above, appealing although I cannot imagine how her white pancho and intricate hairdo (replete with fine chain and baubles) manage to remain so immaculate camping in the Mexican desert. She's something of a tomboy, which may be why several of the male characters find her unattractive. She can also be quite the clown: in one scene, after thoroughly outwitting two policeman, she promptly trips over a rubbish bin à la Buster Keaton, whom she brings to mind at times. Her wry view on life compensates for all the setbacks she endures. The waif-like and initially personality-free Ellis brings out the best in her. For her part, Ellis learns how to emote from observing and imitating Nadie, a process that is the source of much of the anime's humour. Of the supporting characters, Ricardo, the mysterious bounty hunter with the moustache, the gravelly voice, the traditional cowboy attire, and... his constant companion - a mute pre-school girl named Lirio, stands out. There's no-one quite like him in anime. By the end, he and Nadie have developed a strong rapport.

Of all the Bee Train girls with guns anime, El Cazador most overtly explores the yuri affection between the two protagonists. Although they declare their eternal love for each other and, in the final "what happens afterwards" episode, they are settled and living together with Ellis seen in overalls and Nadie referred to as the "she-man", their relationship is always the epitome of innocence. Perhaps the supporting cast of a pair of transvestites, the psychotic obsessive LA, the manipulative Rosenberg and the sado-masochistic Blue Eyes, make Nadie and Ellis seem more pure than they really are. Speaking of Blue Eyes, there are two remarkable scenes where she's talking to the witches' coven by phone - in one she's suspended upside down from the ceiling; in the other she's chained to a roulette table. At the end of both calls she's standing as if neither event took place. It's almost as if Mashimo is saying, "I don't care about continuity and normal plot structures; I'm going to do whatever I like." That attitude is apparent all through the series. Perhaps Mashimo had lost interest and was amusing himself by playing around with conventions. The big climax is perfunctory and largely devoid of tension. The surprising last episode, in effect a coda to the series, is far more entertaining. Perhaps the message is that the journey is more important than the destination. The final scene has Nadie and Ellis forsaking domestic life to search for Ricardo and Lirio. (Lirio? My theory is that her origins are the same as Ellis's and LA's.)


Wiñay Marka: as in Noir the two main characters find a sort of redemption in each other.

But, for all the journeying together, their crypto-Christian sacrifice for each other at Wiñay Marka and the yuri hints, the relationship - which, after all, is the most important element of this particular tale - never quite convinces. I don't get the sense that, for two people living out of each other's pockets, they have a real, breathing, intimate, angry, messy, rewarding, happy relationship. It just wanders down the highway. Perhaps that's why the climax is unconvincing: I simply hadn't invested in their relationship.

In the second half of the series, the Southern Cross constellation is displayed several times prominently. It's quite an unusual sight in anime (or any northern hemisphere production for that matter). I imagine it's one of Mashimo's frequent allusions to Christianity, but it's also useful as a guide to where the events take place. Given its height above the horizon, the furthest north it could be is central Mexico in April, which fits in nicely with the psuedo-Aztec/Mayan imagery and the Hispanic affectations. My guess is that the road trip ranges from Texas to the Yucatan Peninsula. Also, going by Rosenberg's description, the location of his villa seems to be Great Bear Lake in Canada. Presumably the laboratory is there as well. Is the Canadian government aware that the CIA was performing human experimentation in their country?

As with the other Girls with Guns titles El Cazador comes with a Yuki Kajiura soundtrack. Highlights are the blazing El Cazador, the beautiful, chiming atmospheric intro to L.A. with its Neil Young style guitar embellishments, and the aptly named Sad Yearning that brings to mind Smetana's Ma Vlast. I think Kajiura's work with Bee Train remains the pinnacle of her career - particularly in Noir and .hack//SIGN. There's a freshness, an edge that's missing in her more polished work within the Aniplex stable. Like so many of her collaborations, and for whomever she works, her compositions invariably improve the anime they adorn. This is no exception.

Rating: decent. El Cazador has three things going for it: Nadie, a Yuki Kajiura soundtrack, and a genial sense of humour that I find beguiling in short doses. The problem is that, like the badlands Nadie and Ellis travel through, the whole thing seems empty. There's nothing compelling under the surface. It's as if Koichi Mashimo is going through the motions.


"If you've got any last words, say them now."


Last edited by Errinundra on Thu Sep 19, 2019 6:43 am; edited 2 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 16, 2016 11:04 am Reply with quote
Michiko & Hatchin

Reason for watching: I used a discount token with Madman's online store to buy this along with Blast of Tempest. At the time there wasn't anything in their catalogue that I urgently desired but I had thought director Sayo Yamamoto's more recent Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine was an interesting step up from Hayao Miyazaki's comparatively mundane Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. If Blast of Tempest disappointed then Michiko & Hatchin exceeded my expectations.


Hatchin and Michiko. Does anyone in anime have any idea what motorcycling does to your hair?

Synopsis: Escaped convict Michiko Milandra rescues ten year old adopted orphan Hana (Hatchin) Morenos from a life of abuse. Together they travel through the fictional Diamandra - clearly based upon Brazil - in search of Hatchin's father, Hiroshi Morenos, who jilted Michiko twelve years earlier and who, apparently, was killed in a bomb attack on a bus shortly afterwards. The pair are pursued up and down the country by a policewoman, Atsuko Jackson (Jambo), whose connection to Michiko goes deeper and further back than their relationship as criminal and law enforcer might suggest, and by a psychopathic gang leader, Satoshi Batista, who, for his own deeply etched reasons, is also searching for Hiroshi. Both Atsuko and Satoshi have their retinue of circumpendages who complicate matters further.

Comments: You'd be forgiven for thinking that the world of Michiko & Hatchin is nasty, brutish and loveless. All the major characters (and most of the supporting characters) are, or were, orphans; every family is broken in one sense of the word or the other - they are either pathological or one of the parents is absent; children are systematically abused; and women are routinely assaulted (as are men, for that matter). The Diamandara slums are the breeding grounds for ever morphing gangs that compete bloodily for territory, influence and money. That the series could create an authentic, developing relationship between the two protagonists amidst the squalor and vice is very much to its credit. As is the degree to which the two chief antagonists - Jambo and Satoshi - managed to elicit my sympathy.

As the series opens with Michiko's escape from prison, I'll begin with her. Please forgive my male habit of highlighting her appearance, but she must have one of the most gorgeous character designs in anime, (although she can put on the most sour of looks when she's angry). With her almond eyes, full lips and hair she has something of a Disney princess look about her, but she's up there, in my estimation, with Re-L from Ergo Proxy and Rune from Mardock Scramble. The difference is that, while they are introverts, Michiko is extrovert writ large. There's little pre-meditation in her actions. She is the fool that rushes in where angels fear to tread. Luckily for her, and Hatchin, she's quick-thinking, and violent, in a crisis, which is just as well as she's more often than not the cause of the crisis in the first place. For sure, she's not the sharpest needle in the sewing kit but her limitations add to her authenticity. Add to that an intuitive, bloody-minded, never-say-die, optimism, along with her idiotic loyalty to the man who dumped her, and her slow-burn, developing love for Hatchin and you end up with someone who not only earned my affection but who has few peers in anime. You could say that Nadie from El Cazador de la Bruja is an analogue but Nadie, as with the two shows in general, is genial to Michiko's vibrant. Perhaps some of her distinctive appeal is that she is a sexy adult - a rare thing in anime - comfortable with her allure, and not a sexualised adolescent. She is typical of anime in one sense - being at the receiving end of considerable mistreatment she engendered much sympathy from me. That moeru just won't go away.


The different moods of the leading duo.

If put-upon Michiko responds with her fighting instincts then put-upon Hatchin responds with stonewalling perseverance. Whereas Michiko usually earns the abuse she cops, Hatchin seems to attract it through no fault of her own. Sometimes she snaps, as when her step-sister and step-brother threaten her with an iron, or when she defies Satoshi, an act that earns his admiration. Mostly, though, she represses her anger. We see hints of that anger through her bewildered and affronted responses to the oppression she suffers. She wouldn't know a positive feeling if she fell over it. The attention she receives from Lenine - an amnesiac boy working in a bookshop - confuses and upsets her. Compared with Michiko she is considered, thoughtful, ineffectual and more overtly dependent. In fairness she is the child to Michiko's adult (although Michiko often behaves in the most childish manner).

In a fiictional world bereft of genuine relationships the central appeal of the series is the developing love of the central duo in all its dependency, its faltering steps forward and in the bewilderment it causes in the two women. Neither have experienced anything like it before. They are both well-matched and mismatched. As a rule extroverts and introverts don't get each other. What they share is a common history of abuse, an anger at their lot in life, an inarticulate wish for something, somewhere that is better, and, above all, a desire for family. In one sense Michiko will become mother to Hatchin's daughter. Oddly enough, the relatonship ends up being more equal than that may suggest, possibly due to Hatchin having the more sense of the two. (Relatively speaking, given the predicament she gets herself into in the last episode.)


Atsuko: the hair tells you she's ridiculously pompous; the eyes and mouth that she's not to be trifled with.

My favourite among the secondary characters is the afro-haired Atsuko Jackson (aka Jambo), the policewoman who sent Michiko to gaol in the first place. (Her last name is no doubt a dumb reference to the hairstyle worn by the Jackson 5 in their early days.) Her association with Michiko goes back to their childhood together in an orphanage. Back then she admired Michiko's free spirit, probably to the point of obsession. When she loses her to Hiroshi and his criminal gang, Atsuko retaliates by joining the police force. Despite her intelligence, her undoubted competence and her ruthlessness she can't take a trick. Stymied by Michiko at every turn she is time and again reduced to impotent rage. The funny thing is she's a really cool dude, if a tad pompous, who secretly admires Michiko, perhaps on a yuri level. In a couple of encounters, when she lets Michiko slip away, it seems more than just admiration or envy that motivates her. It's not bad in a show when I like the rival nearly as much as the protagonist.

Also ultimately interesting is the main villain, Satoshi Batista, who proves himself a remorseless, cruel and supremely adept killer. There's a single-minded grandeur in his psychopathy that sets him apart from the venality of most of the other thugs or the spurious posturing of his principal rival, Shinsuke Saci Rodriguez. (Note how most characters have a Japanese first name and European last name.) His history with Hiroshi mirrors that of Michiko and Atsuko. Even as a street kid Satoshi set out to be king of the underworld. As his best friend and the only trusted confidant in Satoshi's entire life, Hiroshi willingly becomes the mentally tougher boy's off-sider. That unswerving support helped Satoshi achieve his goal in a world where paranoia is natural. With the disappearance of Hiroshi, Satoshi's empire steadily crumbles. He harbours a rage against Michiko, whom he believes stole Hiroshi from him. He will become pitiful, lonely and impotent. Again, kudos to a show that can engender pity for a psychopath.


Satoshi: looking like another refugee from the disco dance floors of the late 60s, early 70s.

It should be apparent that Hiroshi Morenos is the pivot around whom everything revolves and devolves. Father to Hatchin, one-time lover to Michiko, rival to both Atsuko and Satoshi and righthand man to the latter, everyone wants a pound of his flesh. The wonder is you don't meet him until the last episode, while the irony is he doesn't deserve the the pre-eminence. It seems everyone has loaded their hopes and their resentments onto one feckless individual. Only Hatchin is unmoved by him, which is another irony given that she is the only person with a familial claim to him.

The structure of the road trip not only gives the narrative dramatic direction it also provides the vehicle to allow Michiko and Hatchin to meet numerous people in various relationships, allowing ample opportunity for the anime to explore family, friendship, romance and loyalty in, often, unexpected ways. For the most part the male characters range from venal to thoroughly rotten, although there are exceptions, with the heroic nan dan Nei Feng-Yi the most notable. There are some nasty women also, but it's the female characters who get most of the sympathetic roles. Favourites include: a pole-dancer Pepê Lima who pays a heavy price for her love for her young sister; a circus girl Rita who doesn't allow misfortune to impede her optimism; a strange, aloof botanist, and former lover of Hiroshi, Elis Michaela, who helps Michiko slip from Atsuko's grasp; and Vanessa Lee, a young Michiko lookalike who brings about a change of heart in Atsuko. Generally, the women are victims of male indifference at best or vice at worst, so, yes, the anime has a feminist slant. It is, after all, the child of the equally marvellous Thelma and Louise. Don't be put off by that as Michiko & Hatchin places its polemical arguments neatly within its narrative framework such that I never had the feeling the anime was labouring the point. In any case, the series, like Michiko, is vibrant and alluring. You can ignore the politics and simply enjoy the story and the characters.


The series examines what it is to be female in a world of poverty and vice. Clockwise from top left:
The aloof, creepy Elis Michaela who provides unexpected help to the protagonists;
Vanessa Lee leads Atsuko on a bum steer through ancient temple ruins;
Sweet, kindly circus girl Rita Ozzetti is about the only person who offers Hatchin genuine, unconditional friendship; and
Be-skirted Bebel Feng-Yi sings the praises of his (!) father's legendary ability as a nan dan.

That vibrancy is most apparent in the anime's palette with its luscious reds, blues, greens and yellows. In several ways the creative team has tried hard to give Michiko & Hatchin a look and feel that is removed from most other anime. It has a female director (Sayo Yamamoto) with a distinct vision at the helm for her first time; a male script writer (Takashi Ujita) who has written extensively for live cinema but never before for anime; and, likewise, two lead voice actors (Yoko Maki and Suzuka Ohgo) who have extensive experience in live TV and film but little anime experience. I particularly liked the way the two leads didn't sound like typical seiyuu, avoiding all the artificiality that is what we have come to expect from anime's voice actors. Yoko Maki and Suzuka Ohgo contribute to the sense that Michiko and Hatchin are real, breathing, sweating, emoting people, not simply moe anime types, even if, in Michiko's case, she's larger than life. I suppose it helps ground her. That leads me to my problems with the American dub. Monica Rial and Jad Saxton sound exactly like what they are: anime voice actors. Monica Rial does a fine impersonation of Whoopi Goldberg but that's hardly appropriate for a Brazilian Mestiço. Likewise Jad Saxton sounds too educated for a slum refugee brought up in an impoverished clergyman's household. Any attempt at Brazilian/Portuguese accents would have ended up sounding ridiculous so I guess the dubbing studio made the best of a no-win situation. In any case, once I got over those prejudices the acting was, nevertheless, reasonably good. The dub also continues American studios' persistence in replacing the mora-timing in Japanese names with English syllable stress patterns. That bugs me no end. It's not as if it's hard to do. It just comes across as ignorant parochialism. The Latin music and jazzy soundtrack, while uncommon for anime, nonetheless brings to mind Cowboy Bebop so it shouldn't surprise that Shinichiro Watanabe was the music producer. That said, the soundtrack performance from Kassin adds to the anime's elan.

Rating: The high end of excellent. Michiko and Hatchin gives us a thoroughly entertaining road trip with a narrative that is, in turn, dangerous, funny, frightening and emotional. Better yet it parades an array of memorable characters, mostly female, led by the in-your-face Michiko Malandro and supported ably by the cool-ass failure of a cop Atsuko Jackson and the perpetually affronted and astonished Hana Morenos. Hatchin and Michiko make a convincing pair, in a developing relationship that seems real in a way that is rarely matched in anime. To that you can add some sharp social critique, a great look and an atmospheric sound track. El Cazador de la Bruja seems limp and contrived in comparison.



Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Oct 12, 2019 9:44 pm; edited 2 times in total
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 16, 2016 6:40 pm Reply with quote
Quote:
She is the fool that rushes in where angels fear to treat.
I think that that you meant tread.

May I trouble you to copy your sentiments here? (Or maybe provide a link?)
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 16, 2016 7:22 pm Reply with quote
^
Thanks. Fixed.

I'll do recommendation tonight when I get back from visiting mum. I'm on a train right now.

Edit

I endorsed Spastic Minnow's nomination.
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NearEasternerJ1





PostPosted: Sun Apr 17, 2016 7:12 am Reply with quote
Don't complain about pronunciation. Can you pronounce Avaraham ben Yishaq like it is in Hebrew? Can you pronounce the Arabic variant, Ibrahim ibn Ishaq like it is in Arabic?

Rodríguez is not even a Portuguese surname. Rodrigues is, so by your logic, you would complain that the Japanese could not distinguish between Portuguese and Spanish, thus homogenizing the two languages just because their origins both lie in Iberia. Also, James is used as an English surname and is non-existent in Afro-Brazilians, who exclusively use Portuguese surnames (for obvious reasons). Why the nitpicking?
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 17, 2016 7:19 am Reply with quote
NearEasternerJ1--

Maybe he's nitpicking for the same reason you are -- because he can. (You don't believe me? Then look at the rating that he assigned the anime.)
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 17, 2016 3:40 pm Reply with quote
@ NearEasternerJ1,

Yes, I am nitpicking. The correct mora-timing shouldn't be hard for English speakers - it just requires a little effort. Also, Jackson and Lee aren't Portuguese names either, so I'm not sure of your point.
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NearEasternerJ1





PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2016 1:44 am Reply with quote
Who cares? You do. You don't/can't pronounce English words like they are in RP English, so how do you expect people to 100% pronounce a language that is nothing like English?

Explain your double standards. By your logic, you should be annoyed at the Japanese version's mispronounced Portuguese words. Who cares about Japanese in the long run? It's a minor language. Yet you don't care about major languages like Arabic and Portuguese. When you learn to pronounce Arabic in its Hijazi dialect form correctly, then you can complain about dubs

We know you're biased against dubs. That's why I called you out.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 22, 2016 2:18 pm Reply with quote
Robot Carnival
Robot Carnival - OP, ED & coda
Franken's Gears
Deprive
Presence
Star Light Angel
Cloud
Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: The Westerner's Invasion
Chicken Man and Red Neck

Reason for Watching: Although I tend not to rate them highly as packages there's always enough in the Katsuhiro Otomo / Koji Morimoto anthology movies to enjoy. The creators have the freedom to explore concepts and deploy styles not typical of contemporaneous anime. That's not always a good thing, but every now and then they throw up total gems such as Magnetic Rose from Memories, The Second Renaissance and Beyond from Animatrix, Baby Blue from Genius Party and Dimension Bomb from Genius Party Beyond. Robot Carnival has its own such gem. (I've also reviewed Neo Tokyo and Short Peace earlier in this thread.)

Comments: Along with Animatrix this is the most thematically coherent of the anthology movies. As the title suggests all the segments involve robots or mecha and, for the most part, they have a pessimistic view on the subject. That's not to say they can't be amusing or moving but there's an overall suggestion that robots are our Frankenstein's monster, that our beautiful creations will be our undoing. With all bar one segment no more than twelve minutes long there isn't much time to explore the theme in any depth. I suppose you could say that each short movie explores one face of a multi-facetted gemstone. You could also say most of them need more of a polish.

Robot Carnival - directed by Katsuhiro Otomo (Combustible, Akira, The Order to Stop Construction) and Atsuko Fukushima (Genius Party, Giovanni's Island, character design Labyrinth)


Be careful she doesn't blow up in your face.

A runaway mechanised juggernaut blunders across a desert. When it arrives at a village it unleashes an arsenal of special effects, including high-explosive fireworks, streamers, mechanical brass bands and spinning, clockwork ballerinas that whistle like falling bombs. It brings not celebration, but dismay to the villagers. Even the remnants it leaves buried in the sand are lethal.

Thematically this is Otomo's. Over time I'm getting a better grasp on his obsession with mindless, relentless violence. He highlights both how brutal it is by the awful, albeit spectacular, effect it has on its victims and how stupid it is, generally by presenting it via elaborate gags. You can also throw in breathtaking animation and intricate artwork. The catch is I find I'm more likely to be entertained than convinced. There's a negativity in his worldview that undermines the inspiration in his visual sensibility.

The characters are Fukushima's. They are quite different from Otomo's usual fare, avoiding his usual sour portrayals, but displaying their own weird grotesqueness, accentuated by the gutteral, indecipherable speech. There's something both appealingly childlike and slightly repellant about the human characters. I like those sorts of internal contradictions. The juggernaut itself is a fantastical creation that uses the film's title as a plot device in a thoroughly Monty Pythonesque way.

Franken's Gears - directed by Koji Morimoto (Dimension Bomb, Magnetic Rose, Beyond)

In a nod to Frankenstein, a madly grinning scientist uses the power of lightning to animate a robot. In the ensuing destruction and mayhem the scientist tries to communicate with the robot but the latter decides to put an end to the nonsense.

Koji Morimoto follows Otomo with a segment that combines violent spectacle with lunacy. Also, like Otomo, he presents us with gob-smackingly complex animation as the robot smashes everthing around him. That sounds better than it actually is. Franken's Gears is visually confusing and aesthetically disappointing. The robot might be a monster but it's the scientist who is disturbing, with his mouth agape and tongue lolling about. Perhaps Morimoto's point is that humans are the real monsters, but the whole thing was so daft I didn't care much. Magnetic Rose explores the same territory in a far grander, more horrifying manner. For an admirer of Koji Morimoto this was a disappointment.


Left: the grinning scientist from Franken's Gears. Imagine he's coming to have his way with you. Disturbing, no?
Right: the man / machine from Deprive


Deprive - directed by Hidetoshi Oomori (I Can't Stop Loving You, Dan Doh!!, Megumi - yeah, I hadn't heard of them either)

When a mecha army invades earth a loyal robot fails to save his mistress from abduction. Transforming between robot and human forms he infiltrates the lair of the enemy, defeats the leader in combat, rescues the girl and escapes with her in his arms.

This is the turkey of the bunch. Despite a couple of stark images, the appearance of this segment among the others brings into relief how mundane it is. The narrative and the characters are resolutely shounen in a film that is anything but. I'm still trying to figure out what is the point of the hero being interchangeably human and robot. My current theory is that developing technology will eventually mean that the two will be indistinguishable, but I remain to be convinced the segment is that clever.

By this stage, things were steadily going downhill. I was beginning to worry that I'd wasted my money.

Presence - directed by Yasuomi Umetsu (Kite, Mezzo Forte, Wizard Barristers)


The middle-aged toymaker's vision of the the android girl: an inscrutable face gazing back at the viewer.

In his directorial debut Yasuomi Umetsu blows everything else in the anthology out of the water with his re-imagining of the Pygmalion myth. A young toymaker, unable to make any meaningful social relationships, secretly sculpts his Galatea - an android girl. Upon activation she proves herself far more canny and self-aware than he expected. Perplexed by her intelligence and terrified by her desires he smashes her. Thereafter, in a loveless marriage and wracked with regret, he remains obsessed with her all his life. Finally, as an old man, she re-appears before him.

Everything about Presence is superlative. Not even Umetsu's own Kite can match it. Yes, some of the characters do have Umetsu's trademark blocky grotesqueness although they work well within the story's thesis. At nearly twenty minutes Presence has the space to more fully explore the anthology's Frankenstein trope, though here, even more than in Franken's Gears, the problem is fundamentally a human one. It also has more space for quiet moments, allowing Umetsu to provide visual commentary and the viewer to reflect. Lacking major action scenes Umetsu is also able to spend his share of Robot Carnival's comparatively large budget on more intimate animation - pay attention to the movements of hands and clothing, or the changing facial expressions, or the variety of the people in the town. Facial designs aside, the artwork is gorgeous and meticulous - you see people doing things through distant windows, a man sitting in a gutter is constantly squirming, the restless accoutrements in the toymaker's secret workshop. The bustle of his early life is contrasted with the emptiness of the landscape in his retirement (though no less beautiful, in its way). Complementing the visuals is a stark, poignant piano score from Joe Hisaishi. Yes, he of Ghibli fame. I think this is among his most sensitive scores to its material he has ever composed, especially given the constraints of the orchestration. The final bars, accompanying the flight of a toy angel - in the image of the android girl - are lovely, for want of a better word. (His closer to the entire film isn't bad either.)

This is one of only two segments that has speech. With its psuedo-British setting, the English language dub accents are entertaining and appropriate. The problem is with the dub script, which tries too hard to explicate matters, sometimes even re-interpreting what is happening on the screen. The subtitles, which rely more on inference, are more than adequate to the task. There is one glaring difference that entirely switches the motivations of the android girl. Where, in the subtitles, she declares she wants to fall in love, the dub has her asking to be loved. The former gives her agency; the latter makes her dependent. I prefer the former. Given that she represents the object of male desire, that suits better my conception of a desirable woman. It also fits better with the Frankenstein thesis of the anthology.

Presence is achingly beautiful. Few other anime I've seen capture its sense of regret in such an emotional way. That regret has a sharp edge - the toymaker didn't just lose the most wondrous thing in his life; he destroyed it - that gives it a grandeur that raises it above mere sentimentality. (Or, maybe it's raising sentimentality to grandiose levels?)

Star Light Angel - directed by Hiroyuki Kitazume (Relic Armour Legaciam, Moldiver, character design Urotsukidōji franchise)

At a futuristic carnival a young girl discovers that her love has been misplaced. Running in grief she finds herself transported to a world of robots where she is attacked. Another robot defeats the assailant in combat, rescues the girl and escapes with her in his arms... didn't I see this earlier? Returning to her real world the robot transforms into a comely young man.

Yes. This is Deprive remade as a shoujo version. Thanks to its more cheerful tone, better designs and the flying scenes it's a significant improvement over the earlier counterpart. But it's dull, nonetheless.

Cloud - directed by Manabu Oohashi, aka Mao Lamdo


Top: if only the robot boy in Cloud could see what was before him.
Bottom left: the briefly appearing evil robot from Star Light Angel.
Bottom right: two wooden mecha face off in Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: The Westerner's Invasion.


A freshly minted boy robot goes on a pilgrimage. Head bowed in the wind he wanders through a landscape dominated by clouds, ignoring the fantastical images they create before him. When, finally, he acknowledges his surroundings and becomes aware of his place in them, he is tranformed into a human boy.

Visually this is the most distinctive of the segments with its reliance on pencilled images. Some may find it somewhat pretentious. Sitting through it is a bit of a drag. It's a mildly interesting variation on the film's theme and a postive one at that: when robots become self-aware then they have become human; but fails to engage and doesn't do anything exceptionally well.

Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: The Westerner's Invasion aka A Tale of Two Robots - directed by Hiroyuki Kitabuko (Roujin Z, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Blood: The Last Vampire)

A mad German scientist attacks Meiji Restoration era Japan in his giant jerry-built (yuk! yuk!) wooden and brick mecha. Unluckily for him it just so happens that a bunch of school kids with oddly 1980s anime character types and attitude have built their own wooden mecha for a parade. The two mecha slug it out amidt the shanties of Tokyo.

Comedy fires up again the anthology as the synopsis suggests. The premise is goofy, the characters appropriately dumb or ridiculous and the action slapstick. Two of the notable things about it are the Japanese dub and the English dub. Amazingly, the former has the villain speaking English with a German accent. True - Japanese voice actors speaking English with a German accent. At least in the English dub, in which he also a German accent, I can understand him. The English dub repays the service by having the Japanese characters speaking Janglish with Japanese accents and butchered syntax. I can't decide whether it's hilarious or beyond the pale. All it needs is for Rurouni Kenshin to save day. Oro?

Chicken Man and Red Neck aka Nightmare - directed by Takashi Nakamura (A Tree of Palme, Fantastic Children, Harmony)


Red Neck. The sort of nightmare I can enjoy.

When a robot Walpurgisnacht comes to Tokyo, a drunken scooter rider in a Hawthorn Football Club scarf finds himself matching wits with a minion of the demon robot overlord.

My favourite segment after Presence, Nightmare has a night time Tokyo erupting with hordes of demented robot demons - springing into being from the technological infrastructure of the city - gleefully marching to their overlord's bidding. Like Franken's Gears it has terrifically complex animation but uses the same combination of spectacle and lunacy to create a more entertaining diversion. It's not the human Chicken Man that gained my sympathy but the bolt-mouthed Red Neck, cycling madly after his nemesis, who can't take a trick against the terrified, idiotic human.

Rating:
Robot Carnival - OP, ED & coda - good
Franken's Gears - so-so
Deprive - weak
Presence - excellent+
Star Light Angel - so-so
Cloud - so-so
Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: The Westerner's Invasion - decent
Chicken Man and Red Neck - good

Overall: decent

Recommended reading: Justin Sevakis's Buried Treasure article.



Last edited by Errinundra on Sun Dec 29, 2019 2:00 am; edited 3 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 29, 2016 6:54 pm Reply with quote
This week's post is a housekeeping review from 16 March 2012. I've done the usual formatting changes; added reasons for watching and synopsis paragraphs; upgraded/changed the images; and did some minor edits.

anoHana: the Flower We Saw that Day

Reasons for watching: It was a noitaminA broadcast that, upon its release, quickly appeared high up on ANN's bayesian charts; the artwork was gorgeous and the character designs appealing.

Synopsis: Teenager Jinta "Jintan" Yadomi is haunted by the ghost of his childhood sweetheart Meiko "Menma" Homma. (That's not a spoiler as it is apparent early in the first episode.) Menma wants to have her most important wish granted but, the trouble is, she can't remember what it was. Jintan and the other members of their childhood gang, the Super Peace Busters, must come to terms with their trauma from the past to understand what the wish might be.

Comments: As much as I enjoyed watching anoHana - a nicely constructed, emotional story about teenagers coming to terms with grief - I find myself harbouring considerable misgivings about it. As with its spiritual forebear, Clannad, my emotional responses (and they could be quite powerful) were almost always accompanied by an intellectual pushback telling me it was all artifice. When watching Clannad, I put it down to bad writing, ie the script didn't win me over sufficiently to have me suspend critical judgement. I'm now beginning to believe something else is going on, something that is inherent in anime for both good and bad. And that is, anoHana, like so much other anime, depends upon "anime characters" to involve the viewer and to develop the, admittedly good, premise.


Mash-up of the post-trauma version of the Super Peace Busters made from screen caps from the OP.
L-r: Poppo, Anaru, Jintan, Menma, Yukiatsu & Tsuruko.


What do I mean by an "anime character"? Some examples are in order. Take an anime standard, the "genki" girl. I immediately think of Tomo from Azumangah Daioh or Yui from Angel Beats! or even Menma from anoHana. Everyone will have their favourite. I like genki girls: they're comical and rarely fail to lift the tenor of a series. Like other "anime characters" they have become something of a tradition - a bit like the obligatory guitar solo in 1970s rock music. Like any trope (and guitar solos) they can be used creatively or otherwise. (Some guitar solos were pure sludge.) They can be appreciated as a work of art and, since as anime lovers, we know the language of the art, we can appreciate them when they're done well. But the catch is, they are artificial. I have never met a "genki" girl in real life. Sure, I've known energetic girls but nothing on the scale of Tomo-chan. But that's the point, in a way. Suspension of disbelief is a major feature of animation.

Let me now provide a contrast between two other anime characters - Ushio from Clannad After Story and Rin from Usagi Drop. Ushio is another "anime character" type - the moe girl. Her father, Tomoya, is also a recognisable type through the first season and in the early episodes of After Story. As with Genki Girls, Ushio and Tomoya are notable for their traits. I never get the feeling that either have an active intelligence that is constantly thinking or analysing. That is, until they are re-united, and for a brief moment Tomoya utterly transcends his limitations as a character. I suppose that is why those episodes are loved by so many. Now consider Rin, a peer, you might say, of Ushio. To me, Rin is much more than an easily recognisable "anime character". There is something very realistic about the way she absorbs the import of events around her, the way she reacts and plans and thinks. Her actions are driven by an intelligence, an inner motivation, that is entirely absent in Ushio.

Getting back to anoHana, the problem is that, with one possible exception, the six Super Peace Busters are all anime character types. The most egregious offender is Menma, the catalyst for the unfolding events. To an extent that's fine: each are entertaining, they are handsomely drawn and animated, and they have clearly delineated characters with regrets and passions. But, because they are character types, rather than having a complex inner life, an air of unreality hovers over them. I didn't commit to them emotionally. I laughed at them. I even shed tears for them. But I didn't laugh or cry with them. To compensate for the lack of connection, the anime had to resort to emotional contrivances, such as the "mass hysteria effect" where more and more characters shed more and more tears in the hope of inducing a corresponding reaction in the viewer.

The character that showed signs of breaking her particular mould was tsundere Anaru (she with the gravity defying twin tails). She had a raw and earthy sensuality that I found unusual for anime. Certainly, the camera lingered long and frequently on her legs. If there was ever an anime that overdoses on thigh fanservice, this is it. Then again, perhaps it's just my particular fetish.


Anaru (left), again from the OP. (Without any tampering this time.)

Where was I?... Oh yeah, Anaru. All the others laughed on cue, cried on cue, got angry on cue. Even though she was arguably less emotionally stable than the others, I always felt there was more going on in her head.

One of the interesting things about anoHana is the tension between two competing "harems" within the Super Peace Busters. The obvious one is the "reverse" harem of Menma's with Jintan and Yukiatsu both in love with her and with the young version of Anaru slavishly following her. The final scene, of course, has everyone confessing their love for her. The more interesting harem is Jintan's. Menma and Anaru are in love with him and the spoiler[crossdressing] Yukiatsu is pathologically obsessed by him. On top of that, it's not hard to see that Poppo also idolises Jintan. The only person seemingly outside the harem is Tsuruko who not only always stands aloof from the others but is the show's least appealing character. Well... Yukiatsu gives her good competition for that honour.

Visually the series is a treat. The backgrounds are beautiful and the characters are, as I've said, handsome. Menma only needs to lower head a little, look up slightly and smile wistfully to melt your heart. Anaru only needs a slow camera pan along her legs. They all have expressive faces. Ano Hana is also well constructed dramatically. The catalyst for the story's events is something of a contrivance - Menma wants her wish granted but doesn't know what it is - but, from the first episode until the second last, we follow the six as they figure out what it is they must do and, in the process, get to understand themselves just that little bit better. The many reveals are done theatrically and I found myself thoroughly hooked into the developing story. I have to admit, though, that a second viewing of the series was sometimes a bit of a chore. With a plot that relies on reveals and having a bunch of characters that are types, too often, second time around, I was just left to enjoy how pretty it all was.

Things fall over in the last episode during the hysterical temple scene and equally overwrought farewell scene. Hyper-emoting characters are a cheap way to create drama. In fact, when Menma remembers what her wish was - spoiler[to make Jintan cry] - my response was, "well, that figures". Now, Fate / Stay Night is no masterpiece but the farewell between Emiya and Sabre along with the folllowing scene with Bedivere and Sabre are examples of how poignancy can be achieved without a river of tears from the players.

Favourite moment: Easily, in the end credits when the music stops momentarily and the descending grey flowers change direction and turn to orange and pink. Such a simple effect and so affective.


Menma in characteristic, and calculated, pose from the ED.

Rating: the high end of good


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Oct 12, 2019 10:45 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat May 07, 2016 12:41 am Reply with quote
Elf Princess Rane

Reason for watching: Continuing my project of watching 20th century anime. Justin Sevakis brought this madcap comedy to my attention through his former Buried Treasure column.

Synopsis: That's a moot point. Elf Princess Rane doesn't have a plot so much as an assortment of madly colliding intentions, all revolving around the protagonist, Go Takarada. He's an Indiana Jones fan looking for treasure around his town's scenic spots, including the local shrine. He meets a demure 12 inch fairy from another dimension, Rane, who thinks he's a divinely appointed guide to help her find the mystical "Four Hearts". Confusing matters are his three identical sisters. The first is a sword wielding guardian of the shrine. The second is an over-zealous officer from the local fire brigrade who pilots a transforming, flying fire engine and who is at war with the locally active Yumenokata Corporation. The ambitious third sister, who works for said corporation, is in love with a company project manager overseeing the construction of a gigantic amusement park under the aforementioned shrine. He's in love with the company president's daughter, Mari Yumenokata, who, in turn is in love with Go Takarada. Mari hooks up with another fairy, the foul-mouthed Leen, who has the attention span of a shounen anime fan watching filler episodes. She has come to this dimension to kill Rane, if only she could stay focussed long enough to remember.


Clockwise from top left:
a) Mari is always chasing after Go;
b) Rane is in constant physical danger from her human friends;
c) Zenshuin, who has a penchant for speaking backwards, creates a gigantic love-letter with roses; and
d) Leen in a rare moment of clarity.


Comments: It's hard not to be beguiled by this two part screwball comedy OVA from the mid-nineties from director Akitaro Daichi (Carried by the Wind: Tsukikage Ran, Fruits Basket, Kamisama Kiss and, surprisingly, Now and Then, Here and There.) Daichi has the knack of good-naturedly poking fun at his cast without any underlying nastiness. While no-one is ever truly bad, everyone is ridiculous - some more than others. And, if the jokes are flagging, he ramps up the energy levels or has everyone scream their lines. At only one hour Elf Princess Rane doesn't outstay its welcome even if the gags are corny and the sequences implausible.

Indeed, the OVA is one non-sequitur after another. Continuity is thrown to the salamanders. Scenes follow senselessly from the last. In the very first scene, the expansive gardens of the local shrine turn out to be on the roof of a skyscraper in the city. Later they they are located on rolling hills above the city. Yet later, they either house an enormous industrial complex or just float above the countryside. When Go falls from the gardens for a second time no explanation is given as to how he survives. The appearance of the same pink-haired girl in consecutive scenes confounds until the possibility dawns that she may be multiple people. It turns out they're identical triplets. Funnily enough Elf Princess Rane manages to be more than just a sketch comedy. For sure, the gags are the heart of the show but, in the same way that Monty Python and the Holy Grail uses its interlocking threads as a launching pad for a sequence of gags, the anime also has an internal logic of sorts. For that reason I figure it will have more re-watch value than it it were a simple sketch comedy, in the same way that the Holy Grail is more appealing than the original TV series (despite the latter's many memorable individual stetches).

If rapid movement, exaggerated face faults, falling, explosions and collisions are at the launching pads of the physical comedy, the characters' inability to communicate effectively is the heart of the character comedy. Rane occasionally makes sense, but most of the time her speech is a random conjunction of verbal elements. For his part, Go, if he even listens to anyone else, interprets their words to suit his own peculiar vision of the world. Mari and Leen speak at each simultaneously while the latter can't stay on message from one sentence to the next. Blue-haired fop Zenshuin speaks backwards. No one tells him to his face that he's unintelligble, either listening in wrapt silence or, in his bosses case, telling him to put it in writing. The written reports aren't much better, although the smiley faces in the corners are attractive, apparently. His attempt to communicate his love is doomed: repeatedly demolished and never read. Elf Princess is an assault on narrative, where neither the plot nor the characters provide much coherence for the viewer. Happily, that doesn't impede its ability to entertain.


Clockwise from top left:
a) Leen turns Rane into linguine;
b) one of the triplets loses her cool;
c) Leen finds herself exposed to human cluelessness; and
d) & e) Rane avails herself of Go's figurine collection.


The best gag of all is the existence of a supposed third episode. At the end of the OVA Mari's intimidating, Lurch-like butler implores viewers to support the OVA so the next episode can be produced, then pulls a scary face. Two of the three scenes in the preview have little or no connection with preceeding events. For sure, only one thread is resolved by the end of the first two episodes - Mari gets a confession from her boy - but the undelivered promise of a third episode fits the game playing well, for two reasons. Firstly, the existence of a mythical third episode shouldn't surprise in an anime that is trashing narrative expectations. Secondly, without stating it explicity, the anime is a Holy Grail story (hence my deliberate reference to Monty Python earlier): Rane is on a sacred quest, following arcane clues to the human world; while parallels between Go and Indiana Jones are made repeatedly. One of the Holy Grail myths is that no one ever lives to tell the full story. Thus the tradition is that narrators deliberately stop the tale before its resolution. (Hence, no one gets to make a wish in the Fate franchise, Monty Python and the Holy Grail ends abrubtly, and Indiana Jones lets the Grail fall into the abyss.) Elf Princess Rane dutifully, and gleefully, follows the tradition.

If Elf Princess Rane has shortcomings they centre around the humour, which, narrative games aside, is pretty stupid. That's fine - the high-energy capers and one note characters work well within the one hour time frame. A full season would have become tiresome. Carried by the Wind: Tsukikage Ran has a similar tone but it succeeds as a thirteen episode series because of its more leisurely story telling along with the appeal and relative complexity (relative to Elf Princess Rane, that is) of its two central characters, Ran and Meow (both clowns, mind you). Daichi clearly knows how to adapt his style to the format he's using. All the same, I'm the sort of person who looks for significance in the anime he watches. Being both slight and highly amusing, this OVA is something of a challenge to me. I would add that some may find its 1990s visual style a barrier to appreciating its strengths.

Both the Japanese and American dubs are done with appropriate gusto. I've already developed a preference for the American dub, if only because the gags work better when you hear them, rather than read them. Tamara Burnham does a great job as the triplets, Michael Brady is deliciously pompous as Zenshuin, Chuck Denson Jr's (is that a real name?) bass tone is perfect for Konishi the butler, and everyone is convincingly enthusiastic when screaming their lines.

Rating: Good. There's nothing ambitious or significant about Elf Princess Rane. It's just one hour of ridiculous fun. Most importantly it does that fun better than most. Given how much I enjoyed this and Carried by the Wind, I suppose I have to watch Fruits Basket some time. Sigh. So much anime, so little time.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Oct 12, 2019 10:57 pm; edited 5 times in total
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Sat May 07, 2016 7:53 am Reply with quote
It must be at least a decade since I watched Elf Princess Rane but it all came back reading your review. I would call the show "high energy" but that would be damming by faint praise. Very Happy Rather than provide a specific evaluation I would just say "recommended". It is a show everyone has to make their own decision about.

Since you Mentioned Carried by the Wind: Tsukikage Ran I'd like to say I love the opening. Not often do you see a love song to booze. The show was also noticeable for the absence of blood. As long as you are watching shows by Akitaroh Daichi, don't forget Animation Runner Kuromi and Jubei-chan The Ninja Girl.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat May 07, 2016 8:53 am Reply with quote
I agree with you on the OP of Carried by the Wind: Tsukikage Ran and, yeah, I'll catch up on the other shows eventually.
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yuna49



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PostPosted: Sat May 07, 2016 10:06 am Reply with quote
For a genki girl, my money is on Hajime from Gatchaman Crowds and Gatchaman Crowds Insight. A lot of people found her insufferable, but not me. Sometimes she does seem a bit overpowered and too-insightful, but despite her adrenaline-fueled character she often makes the most sense of anyone in the story, particularly during Insight.
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Sat May 07, 2016 12:04 pm Reply with quote
Animation Runner Kuromi tells much the same story as the first half of Shirobaka but with more humor. The US release comes with extended interviews with Daichi including discussion of the 11th hour crunch.
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