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


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Alan45
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 29, 2016 12:36 pm Reply with quote
@nobahn

Thanks. The link was helpful as well. I was vaguely aware that there was an anime named Metropolis but never got around to looking it up. My primary reference for a show with that name is the 1927 movie.
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 29, 2016 3:06 pm Reply with quote
^
Ah, yes; the genius of Fritz Lang -- the anime is loosely based on Lang's work (the operative word being loosely). Did you know that the Metal Alloy Orchestra has its own OST treatment of Lang's work? I heard them perform live at the Detroit Institute of Arts and they are cracking good!


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Alan45
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 29, 2016 3:09 pm Reply with quote
I haven't seen the whole movie, but I have seen some rather extensive clips. Memory tells me that it was almost real people against animated backgrounds.
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 29, 2016 5:27 pm Reply with quote
^
To be sure, Lang's work is a work of its time; but its social commentary makes it timeless much in the same way that that Cabaret's is.

EDIT:
Here's a link to a clip of Metropolis with the Alloy Orchestra's OST.

EDIT#2:
Here's another link.

EDIT#3:
Ebertfest 2011 - Metropolis Q&A

EDIT#4:
Ebertfest 2011 - Metropolis introduction
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 30, 2016 5:55 pm Reply with quote
@ Alan45,

1. As I understand it, even the Major's brain is cyberised. The only human thing about her is her ghost.

2. My exposure to Battle Angel Alita is the OAV. Re-watching the opening reveals that it follows the manga, as you describe it. I've changed the image to Tima from Metropolis (2001), to meet the criteria of the caption. The image now has three Osamu Tezuka robot girls. Perhaps he had a fetish?

@ Surrender Artist,

I finally got you into the thread. (Laughs like one of the villains in this week's anime under review.)

****

Fist of the North Star (movie)

Reason for watching: Continuing with anime from last century. If you've read much of the thread you might suspect that this sort of title isn't my thing. Sitting through 109 episodes of the original series wasn't all that appealing so I settled for this alternate retelling. So, please factor in my prejudices when reading this review.

Synopsis: In a post nuclear holocaust (didn't I encounter this scenario only recently?) the lawless and barren world is divided in many ways, including the opposing martial arts of Hokuto Shinken (Divine Fist of the Big Dipper) and Nanto Seiken (Holy Fist of the Southern Dipper). Kenshiro, a practitioner of the former, is beaten up by a rival who practices the latter, then has his girlfriend stolen from him, and finally thrown into a crack in the earth for his troubles. Undaunted he returns, stronger than ever, to administer violent justice to the villains of the world and plant the seeds for a new age of prosperity and justice. It turns out that the biggest villain of all is his own older brother.

Comments: Humourist, raconteur, poet, critic and memoirist Clive James famously described Arnold Schwarzenegger as looking like a condom full of walnuts. I wonder what he would have made of Fist of the North Star, where pretty much every adult male character is so lumpy that no prophylactic could possibly contain them safely. Seriously, these guys have necks with a greater circumference than either their bums or their brains; their breasts are larger than the women's; while the chafing of their thighs must be nigh on unbearable. In a world of malnutrition and collapsed manufacturing how is that so many men manage a high protein diet and access to steroids? I've never seen another anime quite like it. Given its immense popularity in Japan it's a surprise that it didn't spawn an entire genre of musclebound anime bash fests. (Maybe it did, but I'm not aware of them.) To a man, they are thugs.


Assorted walnut sheaths. That's just a sample. What has anime got against nipples?
Kenshiro is top row right; Raoh - the big bad is second row left.


The central character is an exemplar of the type, being as broad-shouldered, as narrow-waisted, as violent and as cocky ("You're already dead") as the best of them. You know he's the good guy because he's the lone figure in the wide shot - cue Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone - is more particular about whom he spiflicates, doesn't treat childrena as badly as the others do, and is chosen by the female lead. I still wouldn't want him misunderstanding my intentions: I prefer not having my brain exploded. If Crusher Joe is indebted to popular western sci-fi movies of the time then Fist of the North Star likewise owes much to the landscapes and attitudes of Mad Max. In a further borrowing from the west, Kenshiro's character design is also highly reminiscent of Rambo era Sylvester Stallone. (There's that lone figure in the wilderness again.) One thing I'm learning is that the anime of 1980s confident Japan was much more outward looking than today. The film also portrays Kenshiro as a Christ figure, visually and metaphorically. He is both man and superman, must suffer for others' sins, and lead the world towards redemption. The visual analogy is made explicit in the scenes of the unnamed man (Kurosawa and Leone again) who returns from the dead. I'm unaware, however, that Jesus advocated violence on Kenshiro's level. The weirdest thing about him, though, is his peculiar chimpanzee screeching when he pummels his enemies. In a show that relies on a calculated excess of macho posturing, his vocalisations suggest The Three Stooges as much as anything, thereby reducing the whole thing to unintentional farce and demolishing his strong man aura.

The other male characters strut about, burst their clothing - I'm sure Laputa: Castle in the Sky is intentionally making a dig at Fist of the North Sky in its own shirt shredding scene - promise imminent death to their enemies, laugh insanely - suprise, surprise - at the prospects of murder and mayhem, then eviscerate or are eviscerated (or exploded, or decapitated, or dismembered). One person who displays uncharacteristic subtlety is the blue-haired Rei, of the Nanto Seiken school. Indebted to Kenshiro he demonstrates a singular restraint in his actions. For the most part, the others are gleefully uninhibited. The film sets up a clear heirarchy of individual fighting prowess so, to give it credit Raoh, the alpha big bad, is a genuinely intimidating adversary for Kenshiro. The female characters exist principally to be victims. Youngest of them, Lynn, is portrayed as another saviour figure, but doesn't actually do anything to justify the role other than hold a pot that sprouts a flower. Instead she joins Julia and Airi in their damsel in distess duties. Of course, she can't be permitted to overshadow the real hero of the show, even if the opening narration indicates it should be otherwise.


The image on the left conflates aspects of Christian imagery. I'm not sure if it's sophisticated or confused.

For a retelling of a 109 episode series the film is thankfully coherent. There are narrative gaps all the same. How Kenshiro survives being thrown into the crack and how he augments his powers is never explained, while he has a habit of separating from his travelling companions for no apparent reason. The journey to the showdown between Kenshiro and Raoh can't stop for trivial things like plot authenticity. What I'm beating around the bush, trying to say, is that the prime plot driver is the need to show fistfuls of gory fighting between beefy males. Everything else is subordinated to that end. The catch is, violence without any context other than entertainment treads a path that could lead to a form of pornography. Lacking sophistication or an appealing style - think Cowboy Bebop for the epitome of syle attempting to justify violence - Fist of the North Star is only saved by its silliness. If I can't take it seriously I can't be offended by it.

The American dub is execrable. No-one seems to be making an effort, as if they couldn't take the project seriously. The American narrator, Jeff Corey, sounds like he might expire at any moment. Amazingly, he lived for another sixteen years. John Vickery lacks gravitas as Kenshiro - his rivals invariably sound more manly, Melodee M Spevack as Kenshiro's love object, Julia, can't read and voice act at the same time, while Holly Sidell sounds too old for Lynn. I prefer the Japanese dub because, in my ignorance, I can't tell how good or bad it might be. The incidental music from composer Katsuhisa, who gave us the rollicking Crest of the Stars/Banner of the Stars soundtrack, is effective and occasionally surprisingly good. Background art is variable. Typical for its time the imagery is more expressive, and simpler, than what we are accustomed to in 2016. Animation short cuts abound - Fist of the North Star can't compare with the quality of the three year older Crusher Joe, which is much the better action show.

Rating: not really good. Fist of the North Star is about the pecs, the posturing, the tight pants and the exploding brains. These exist outside my framework for determing the worth of an anime. If those elements appeal to you then please disregard everything I've written.


Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 18, 2019 5:38 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 30, 2016 7:52 pm Reply with quote
Errinundra wrote:
Quote:
As I understand it, even the Major's brain is cyborg. The only human thing about her is her ghost.


No, the manga is quite clear that with a full cyborg what is left is the brain and spinal cord in a special titanium shell. They have special containers that provide life support so the shell can be removed and transferred to a new body. That is how Batou saves the Major when her body is destroyed. You can see the shell in the early episode of SAC where the foreign government agents try to kidnap the foreign minister and some records. This is the one that starts in the robot geisha house. The first movie is not quite as clear but you can find information in the discussion following the Major's skin diving. In the US release this is scene 7 Hope in deep diving. She refers to having an augmented brain.

All of Section 9 except Togusa and Aramaki are heavily cyborg. The Major is the only one who is angsty doubting her humanity and even considering the possibility that her brain has been replaced (since it is one thing she can't see in real time). She and her nurse friend have an uneasy laugh about that possibility. See chapter 5 of the manga.

What may have misled you is the term "cyberbrain" this is an augmentation to the brain rather than a replacement. It provides a CPU, some memory chips and connections to the internet. In the manga which was written when the internet was in its infancy the connections in the back of the neck are for a wired connection to the net. Wi-Fi was not yet a thing then. In SAC they are used to make a hard wired secure connection that can't be hacked. Basically think of a smart phone implanted in the back of your neck with a virtual screen that you can see by thinking about it. In the basic society in GITS everyone has a cyberbrain except for a few unfortunates and religious types. This includes Togusa and Aramaki.
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yuna49



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PostPosted: Fri Sep 30, 2016 11:57 pm Reply with quote
Alan45 wrote:
Errinundra wrote:
Quote:
As I understand it, even the Major's brain is cyborg. The only human thing about her is her ghost.

What may have misled you is the term "cyberbrain" this is an augmentation to the brain rather than a replacement. It provides a CPU, some memory chips and connections to the internet. In the manga which was written when the internet was in its infancy the connections in the back of the neck are for a wired connection to the net.

Shirow explores many of these same concepts in his later show with I.G called RD Sennou Choshitsu, or "Real Drive." Everyone except the teenaged protagonist has these augmentations and are connected to a vast network. Exploring the network is portrayed through the metaphor of ocean diving. I found this show quite variable with some excellent episodes, like the one about (warning: mild spoilers) "Eliza Weizenbaum," and others that were less compelling. There are also androids in this show that look indistinguishable from the humans around them. The women tend to have, shall we say, voluptuous body shapes. The one in the linked picture is an android.
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dtm42



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PostPosted: Sat Oct 01, 2016 12:15 am Reply with quote
Errinundra wrote:
The weirdest thing about him, though, is his peculiar chimpanzee screeching when he pummels his enemies.


I take it you've never seen any of Bruce Lee's movies. Kenshiro's looks, mannerisms and quirks are clearly based off the guy. As for those monkey sounds, Kenshiro gets those from Bruce as well.
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 01, 2016 12:16 am Reply with quote
Yuna49 wrote:
The women tend to have, shall we say, voluptuous body shapes. The one in the linked picture is an android.
Code:
[url=http://www.takinganimeseriously.com/images/holons-butt.png][img]http://www.takinganimeseriously.com/images/holons-butt.png[/img][/url]
results in a very large picture.
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yuna49



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PostPosted: Sat Oct 01, 2016 12:42 am Reply with quote
Are you saying I should have put the image inside {img} tags? I often avoid doing that with large images so they do not dominate the thread or my posting. In this case the image is somewhat incidental to my discussion about Real Drive.

Or are you suggesting something else? If so, what?
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 01, 2016 12:47 am Reply with quote
Quote:
Are you saying I should have put the image inside img tags? I often avoid doing that with large images to avoid having them dominate the thread or my posting.

Oh, I see; then nevermind.....
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zawa113



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PostPosted: Sat Oct 01, 2016 3:36 am Reply with quote
Man, Fist of the North Star! I've never seen the movie, but I did watch a lot of the TV series (before I burned out at the end of season 3). The show is slow paced, almost ridiculously so, so it's mostly semi-poorly animated fight scenes and strange body measurements (Kenshiro will go to a guy's knee in one scene, then in the next, same dude, he'll be a little below his shoulder). But I do love seeing all the other anime on earth lovingly parody it all the same. I also questioned how these roving gangs got so much hair dye and stuff, and where Kenshiro kept getting shirts from in a world where both of these objects would seem to be in low supply.

What you should really be watching though is the American Fist of the North Star movie. You can find it pretty easily for free on youtube, because no one seems to even care to file a copyright claim on it (because that would be admitting they own it). I feel like the strangest thing about the movie (y'know, other than that stare Gary Daniels does all the time, how badly they messed up the concept of "circular stars", and Shin's faaaabulous final fight outfit) is that Dante Basco plays Bat. As is, yes, that Dante Basco, aka Rufio and Zuko. Malcolm McDowell is in it too, but that's less weird since he'd show for any D movie during the 90s.
Really though, the movie is just a nice reminder that America has been screwing up anime adaptations far before Dragon Ball Evolution came out.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2016 12:24 am Reply with quote
Thanks, dtm42. That explains a lot.

classicalzawa - compared with how you describe the TV series, the movie sets a faster pace, which, I suppose, is to be expected.

Melbourne's winter rain has continued into spring, inflicting me with a cold. *Sniff.* I work in a call centre. Part of my days are spent as floor support where I'm available to help less experienced staff with difficult questions from members (we're a mutual company, so they're members, not customers). I've possibly infected ½ the call centre.

Thunderbolt Fantasy

Reasons for watching: The effusive first episode reports in the ANN winter ( Razz ) anime guide, the novelty of its gimmick - the characters are elaborate hand puppets - and Gen Urobuchi as scriptwriter got me watching the first episode. Its high voltage entertainment ensnared me for the season.

Synopis: A wandering swordsman from a distant nation - Shāng Bù Huàn - is conned by a trickster - Lǐn Xuě Yā - into helping a shrine maiden - Dān Fěi - recover the stolen handle of a powerful magic sword. With four other companions they travel to the remote fortress of the criminal gang responsible. On the way they face deadly trials and we discover that few of the seven are what they purport to be. Once at the gang's lair, loyalty and companionship are forsaken as the various characters try to outwit each other to gain control of the sword... until its true purpose is revealed.


The Japanese producers (L-R): Gen Urobuchi, Kosaka Takaki (Nitroplus) and Aki Takanori (Good Smile Company)

Comments: You might be suprised if I tell you that superstar script writer Gen Urobuchi is happily overshadowed by the Taiwanese puppet stars of this co-production between Pili International Media (responsible for the puppets and the filming), Nitroplus and Good Smile Company. I say "happily" in two senses: as good as Urobuchi's script is, the puppets steal the show; and, as the pre-broadcast special reveals, Urobuchi - whose baby this is - was himself blown away by the puppets. I wasn't fazed by them - I had grown up with Space Patrol and the supermarionation of Gerry and Silvia Anderson, most notably Stingray and Thunderbirds. These English shows, of course, used marionettes, rather than the hand puppets of Pili. Thunderbolt Fantasy combines, for me, a sense of familiarity (especially if you add its anime connections) and surprise, with its altogether superior puppetry, the Chinese cultural elements, the dynamic camera work and the special effects. Even if you haven't had any experience of this sort, don't be put off. The novelty isn't at all awkward. Your reaction is more likely to be wonder.

The puppets are gorgeous. The hand painted faces may only have movable eyelids and lower lips but, thanks to the designs and the skills of the operators, they nicely express the personalities. Add to that the fluid, expressive body motions and the exquisite costumes and you get a cast of eccentric, memorable characters. Any technical shortcomings are masked by the rapidly moving cameras, the atmospheric sets, the wind machines, the explosions, the bloodletting and the flashy, superimposed computer generated effects. The showy techniques, though, not only disguise any woodenness in the puppetry, but they also draw attention away from the show's significant shortcoming: for all the effort there isn't much at its core. Thunderbolt Fantasy is more flash than flesh, more gravy than meat. (Odd metaphors for a vegetarian to use, I admit.) For sure, it has all the Urobuchi trademark tautness, wit and economy but, when all is said and done, it's just a technically superior version of Fist of the North Star, with swords and costumes replacing fists and bulging muscles. The message is the same too: good guys take a rise out of the bad guys and pride is there to be pricked. Under all the flash, Thunderbolt Fantasy is a shounen anime by other means.


The Magnificent Seven who set out to retrieve the artefact.
Top: Shāng Bù Huàn has now replaced Kyon as the facepalm king;
Don't let Lǐn Xuě Yā blow the smoke from his pipe in your direction.
Middle: the three unsavouries who try to outwit Lǐn Xuě Yā. Pride will bring them down.
Bottom: shrine priestess and idealistic youth


Gen Urobuchi always has a big theme or two at the heart of his stories. In Puella Magi Madoka Magica it was LOVE in the guises of HOPE and DESPAIR; in Psycho-Pass FREEDOM v GOOD ORDER; while in Fate/Zero he indulged himself with two big themes: in Arturia, Alexander and Gilgamesh KINGSHIP and, in Kiritsugu Emiya PRINCIPLES v MEANS. In Thunderbolt Fantasy the topic for discussion is PRIDE. I use capitals because Gen Urobuchi isn't interested in the minutiae of life; he wants to address the big questions. He has a ponderous self-importance in the way he grafts his pre-occupations onto the narrative and the characters. Perversely, the gimmick of using puppets has, as I said, put Urobuchi's role in the shade. His thematic elements remain secondary.

So, PRIDE. Every character embodies either hubris or humility. Those who embrace the former are mostly destroyed, humiliated or, in one important case, learn the error of their ways. The point of view character, the self-effacing Shāng Bù Huàn, will eventually reveal himself to be a man of extraordinary resources. His self-deprecating ways earn the viewer's affection. His buddy and irritant, the con-artist Lǐn Xuě Yā, finds meaning in life by identifying the source of pride of the most villainous characters then puncturing it, something he finds far more satisfying than killing or defeating them. That peculiar motivation is a form of pride in itself, so Lǐn Xuě Yā will necessarily suffer his own downfall. Shrine priestess Dān Fěi is the epitome of selfless duty. Her love interest - the enthusiastically boysy spearman Juǎn Cán Yúnāo (a deliberate play on Don Juan?) - erroneously conflates pride, honour, reputation and morality, learned from his mentor, archer Shòu Yún Xiāo, who tries to instil in his apprentice that establishing a reputation is primary and that all else follows. Juǎn Cán Yúnāo will, in due course, renounce his teacher's philosophy and dedicate his life in service to Dān Fěi. Like Shòu Yún Xiāo, the other villains define themselves by their pride in their martial prowess. Naturally they all laugh fiendishly as they contemplate their villainy. (I wish that cliche would follow hammer space into extinction.) Defeat in battle entails dishonour. To be defeated by someone who disparages the sword is the ultimate disgrace. Catch is, hubris is a too easy a target. The only way Urobuchi can introduce ambiguity into the narrative is by the deceptions of the characters, which, while admittedly fun first time around, won't help the series in re-watches.


Sundry villains including Miè Tiān Hái (top left) and the demon Yāo Tú Lí (top right) who makes a belated, brief appearance.

The collaboration with Pili also releases Urobochi from a number of anime constraints. Most notably it allows him to create a cast of adult characters. One of the curses of anime is its dearth of adult protagonists. It's hard to imagine Shāng Bù Huàn or Lǐn Xuě Yā as high school students. Admittedly, Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass had adult casts, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. They also show that he has a preference for adult characters (which I suspect is the case for may anime writers). Thunderbolt Fantasy is his baby, and a new area of creative endeavour, so it would seem he had a large amount of freedom. That said, the series shares with Tiger and Bunny a cast of adult characters and accoutrements in what is basically a shounen narrative. I should be grateful for the characters, however. Shāng Bù Huàn as the understated, reluctant hero doesn't break new ground but the type, when done well and he is here, is always appealing. While I prefer Shāng Bù Huàn - he fits my ideal of the hero - Lǐn Xuě Yā is the more distinctive personality. He is the consummate politician: disarming, devious, subtle, appealing to people's better natures, or worse, as necessary, and, above all charismatic. Shāng Bù Huàn, and most of the other characters, know Lǐn Xuě Yā is taking them for a ride, but they also know it's an invitation they can never refuse. Shāng Bù Huàn submits with tired resignation; the others, mistakenly, wait for the opportunity to turn the tables. It's an irony that, at the end, with the promise of another series to come, Shāng Bù Huàn is the one leading the way with Lǐn Xuě Yā hot on his heels, eager for the trouble that the former is sure to bring down upon himself.

The final episode is a disappointment. While the resolution of the contest between Lǐn Xuě Yā and the big bad Miè Tiān Hái is entirely satisfactory, the escalation into an unflagged doomsday scenario with a rampaging demon comes across as what it is, tacked on. But wait, it gets worse. Shāng Bù Huàn then proceeds to pull an almighty - and I mean almighty - rabbit out of his hat in the form of a scroll of such prodigious power that he could have resolved the narrative in the very first episode. The whole cringe-worthy sequence is uncharacteristically sloppy for Gen Urobuchi. (Then again, maybe not. Both Rebellion and Psycho Pass have conclusions that don't cohere organically with what goes before them.) It's as if he wanted the story to end with a bang and went for what was most convenient.


The Taiwan team.

Rating: good. The novelty of the Pili puppets, the compact writing from Gen Urobuchi, last episode excepted, and a cast of fun characters provide a glossy cover for a well travelled plot and a perfunctory exploration of theme of hubris. Don't be put off by the puppets: they enhance the show in every way. Oddly enough, it's the characters of Shāng Bù Huàn and Lǐn Xuě Yā that will have me watching the next series, not the puppets. Having watched the first season twice - once as it aired and again for this review - the novelty has worn off. I find it hard to imagine ever watching it again. The next season, however, promises something new.


Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 18, 2019 5:42 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 21, 2016 7:54 pm Reply with quote
The Tale of the White Serpent aka Hakujaden

Reason for watching: Part of my project to watch landmark anime from last century. The first full colour anime, it was released by Toei Animation in the year of my birth - 1958. What's more, according to the Font of All Knowledge, production started in the month I was born - February. As such I like to boast that my life encompasses all colour anime ever made. Not long after watching it for the first time I tracked down fansubs for the next three Toei cinema releases, so I plan to review them in the coming weeks. All four films were based on Chinese and Japanese traditional stories, something that the studio largely abandoned afterwards.


From the original Tale of the White Serpent trailer.
Left: animators beavering away in Toei's, then new, Nerima Ward studio.
Right: President Hiroshi Okawa isn't able to match Walt Disney's avuncular charm.


Toei Doga: Arguably, Toei stands with Osamu Tezuka as the one of the two foundation pillars of the modern anime industry. Incorporated in 1950 as Tokyo Film Distribution (Tokyo Eiga Heikyu) from the merger of a number of smaller companies, it started as a live action studio and theatrical distributor. The following year Toei became the official name. When, in 1956, they decided to expand into animation, Toei characteristically went out and bought the largest of the then tiny local animation studios, Japan Animated Films (Nihon Doga Eiga), retaining that company's president, Sanae Yamamoto, as head of production. Led by divisional president Hiroshi Okawa and determined to become the "Disney of the East" they built large new premises in Tokyo's Nerima ward. In time the area became a hub of anime production. So many notable animators were trained by Toei - many of whom started their own companies or went to work for others - that it earned the nickname "Toei University". It never did manage to match Disney's theatrical clout but did achieve significant success when it expanded into television. For many years Toei and Magical Girls were virtually synonymous.

Synopsis: As a boy Xu Xian had a pet white snake that he cherished dearly until forced by his disapproving parents to release it. Thankful for his kindness the snake, who is actually the snake spirit Bai Niang, loves him in return and takes the form of a beautiful young woman, accompanied by her maidservant Xiaoqing, a similarly transformed fish spirit. A travelling monk, Fahai, who specialises in exorcising demons, determines to separate the lovers by sending the young man into exile and by permanently forcing Bai Niang into her snake form. Xiaoqing, along with a red panda and a giant panda, sets out to bring the lovers together again.


Bai Niang: the tree hints at a possible more sinister alter ego.

Comments: If you've been watching Folktales from Japan you will have encountered a common story structure where a young man treats a wild animal kindly. The grateful animal returns as a beautiful woman, co-habits with the man - perhaps bearing children with him - but is eventually forced to return to her animal form when the man discovers her true nature, usually after breaking a promise to her. There are variations on the species of animal, the acts of kindness, whether there is a promise and what form it takes, and what causes the separation. The Tale of the White Serpent, based on a Chinese story from the Song Dynasty (960-1276), comes very much from that tradition, although the male character plays a more passive role than you might expect, while the female character is more assertive in her determination to stay with him. The story also takes a serious yet sympathetic approach to the spirits, something that you don't find as much in the European tradition.

Coming from modern anime to this almost sixty year old feature highlights how much anime has changed. The most notable thing are the character designs, which are less westernised than their contemporaries, especially the beautiful, oblique almond eyes. The clothing, mythology and setting also owe nothing to European sensibilities and little to modern anime. The music likewise uses oriental sounding themes, but introduces one of the non-oriental aspects of the film - the use of an electric slide guitar in the soundtrack. Indeed, the opening credits demonstrates the, perhaps intentionally juxtaposed, meeting of east and west (they're both north from my vantage point in Oz!), with its Japanese woodblock styled images and the soaring guitar lines that would do a 1970s prog rocker proud, accompanied by Hawaiian glissandos and full orchestra. The combination is thrilling. It is simultaneously stirring and portentous, immediately setting one of the moods of the tale and, miraculously, sounding entirely appropriate for the setting. The musical soundtrack has other western influences, particularly from Disney. Yes, expect singing and dancing animals. They are fun, but they also create a discord with the otherwise sombre mood of the tale. Whether the contrast is deliberately intended as dissonance or done for comic relief, or both, or simply misguided, I cannot say.


Top row: Comic relief in the form of the fish spirit girl, Xiaoqing, and a musical routine from Panda and Mimi.
Bottom row: East and west: the last image suggests the symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin. Blue-greens and mauves dominate the backrounds.


In common with contemporary anime there isn't much animation or multiplaning, while a great deal of care is frequently given to to backgrounds whose dominant blue-green or mauve colours, with red highlights, adds further to the sense of strangeness. One aspect that is typical of its time is how movement, rather than narrative or dialogue, is used for comic effect: from the droll marching of policemen and the "escape" of a model dragon to the antics of vagabond animals. A recent example where bodily movement is used in that way is Little Witch Academia, which is notable for the western feel in its animation. For every well animated scene, though, you also get clunkers, such as the tale of boy's early relationship with the serpent - the snake in the cage looks like light globe - or the aerial battle between Bai Niang and Fahai. The combination of formal story telling and animation can also be clumsy. Too often the narration is superfluous - what is happening on screen is obvious. After a slow start the film gets into stride and, at only 75 minutes, seldom drags. The plot is simple - boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy is reunited with girl - so scenes exist for little other purpose than to amuse, such as the aforementioned flight of the model dragon. For the most part the film succeeds in its entertainment aims.

Rating: As an historical document Tale of the White Serpent is, with Astro Boy, arguably the most essential, most important anime ever made. (How could something made in the year I was born not be? Cool ) As entertainment, and seen via the lenses of my demanding twenty first century eyes, I would rate it as decent, not simply for its curiosity value, but because it is moderately entertaining, at times gorgeous to look at while at others cringeworthy, and for its soundtrack.


Prose and poetry: the mundane character designs contrast with the, at times, exquisite scenery.

Reference Material:
The Anime Encyclopaedia 3rd Revised Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation, Jonathon Clements and Helen McCarthy, Stone Bridge Press via Kindle
Cartoon Research website: Early Animation Features: To 1958, Fred Patton.
Wikipedia


Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 18, 2019 5:45 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 04, 2016 9:56 pm Reply with quote
Magic Boy aka Shōnen Sarutobi Sasuke

Reason for watching: Continuing the early Toei cinematic anime releases, This, from 1959, was their second.

Synopsis: A precocious boy, Sarutobi Sasuke, lives in the wilderness with his sister and the numerous animals he befriends. When a deer sacrifices herself to save her fawn - one of Sasuke's closest friends - from a giant carp she unwittingly releases a powerful witch, Yasha, who had been sealed there many years ago. Unable to rescue the deer or combat the witch Sasuke trains with a hermit to master magic and ninja techniques. Upon completion he teams up with a local samurai, Sanada Yukimura, and the animals to fight Yasha and her gang of bandits.


Sarutobi Sasuke in his element. The idyll can't last - the story has to get a move on.

Comments: The immediately obvious difference between Magic Boy and its predecessor, The Tale of the White Serpent, is the switch to a 2.35:1 widescreen format, something that you rarely see in anime these days. But that's not the only difference. Where the previous film was based upon one of the Four Great Folk Tales of China, this time around Toei sourced its material locally, although it mashes things up, with a mixture of legendary and historical characters and at least one character who belongs in another era. Sasuke himself is a fictional character who became popular in children's books during the Meiji era. A ninja, he is usually depicted as allied with the real life samurai Sanada Yukimura, who lived during the warring states period. Yukimura participated in many of the military campaigns of the time, dying in the siege of Osaka Castle in 1615. Many stories have Sarobi Sasuke dying with him. Both characters have since appeared frequently in anime. The hermit who trains Sasuke, Tozawa Hakuunsai, is modelled on the founder of the Gyokko-ryū school of Japanese martial arts in the Heian period, more than 400 years before the events of the story. The film implies that he has mystical power, so his extraordinary age may well be intentional.


A popular figure in anime, the portrayal of Sanada Yukimura has undergone a stylistic shift over the years.

Magic Boy also sharpens its narrative focus on the protagonist, Sasuke, unlike TotWS, which can't make up its mind between the male Xu Xian, who is a passive player for the most part, and the more catalytic female snake spirit Bai Niang. Here, Sasuke is the centre of his narrative: he has a clear goal - kill Yasha to avenge the death of the deer - and an articulated strategy that he follows. It makes the film more accessible but less interesting. Revenge as a motivating force is both lazy and mundane. It's bad enough in a villain, where it's a convenient way to avoid complex character development, but disappointing in the supposed good guy, where it makes him rather less sympathetic than he ought to be. I'm always disappointed when any narrative treats revenge as a legitimate motive. The film tries to make up for it by making Sasuke appealing in other ways, such as his affinity for the forest animals, his relationship with his sister, his hyperactivity and his perseverance. That said, he has a surprisingly humourless persona.


O-Kei-chan and bandit. She's the way scarier of the two. Thankfully anime later went for smaller mouths.

As with TotWS, the film relies upon cute animals (who, thankfully, don't sing this time around), clownish villain foot solders, and a cheeky girl to provide the comic relief. The latter - O-Kei-chan - is full on tsun-tsun with nary a hint of dere-dere. When Yasha's bandits torch her village, she refuses to be prised from the family's treasure chest so winds up being carried off by two soft-hearted bandits along with the rest of the loot. Once at the lair she mercilessly torments the two bandits, whose developing affection for her leads to a turning point in the hero's battle against Yasha. Her persona and ugly character design, particularly her mouth - pretty much all the characters have lasciviously and offputtingly curved lips - annoyed me almost as much as she did the bandits. They should have dropped the rock on her. (That's nasty, Will.) The other characters are similarly one-note. Sasuke's sister is a vulnerable yamato nadeshiko, Yukimura is noble, Yasha is plain bad and ugly - though she does a surreal, erotic dance at one point - while Tozawa Hakuunsai is goofy. In short, what we're getting here is a straight forward action/adventure story with easy to digest characters. I prefer more complexity, more thematic integration and ambiguous character motivation. Perhaps i expect too much?


Yasha the witch. The mouth! Maybe O-Kei-chan is her love child.

The colours are warmer, with tans, ochres, oranges and reds predominating. The forest scenes have an autumnal feel to them, while other locales mostly come across as arid and rocky, thereby enhancing the sense of wilderness. Yasha brings a blue tone to several of the scenes; her battle scenes often involving water. That said, the prosaic backgrounds are much less expressive than in TotWS, which isn't surprising, given its less ambitious narrative. The opening forest sequence is, nonetheless, attractive. It has more character movement than its predecessor. The fight scenes are reasonably choreographed, if deliberately paced at times, whereas the spell-casting is too often unconvincingly wooden. Although the characters look oriental, Toei haven't yet achieved a distinctive anime look. The Cyborg 009 movies and Astro Boy anime are still a few years in the future. Both were based on manga, of course. Anime's embrace of manga will give it its visual identlty in due course. The music is eclectic with frequent use of Spanish guitar, which works much better than you might think. Like the other cinematic elements it emphasises drama and action, rather than contemplation or a sense of otherness. The children's chorus theme song is, however, very Japanese, and, as you'd expect, kitsch.

Rating: So-so. Neither as essential as The Tale of the White Serpent nor as interesting a viewing experience, Magic Boy is, nevertheless, technically a big step forward from Toei's first film while, at the same time, refining its storytelling elments. When I consider what other animation was being produced at the time in Japan, I'm astonished at the studio's ambition.
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