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


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Night fox



Joined: 01 Oct 2014
Posts: 561
Location: Sweden
PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2015 5:22 am Reply with quote
dtm42 wrote:
Indeed. My point was - dai shockuu - not that they couldn't physically get back, rather that the doctor would have to undergo the same weirdness which caused the postman to faint. I wonder what the doctor thought of the magical tunnel through the storm and the yokai swirling around him? Oh wait, they never touch on that. How odd . . .

Doctors, on a daily basis, see things that would make most people faint. It's part of their job to deal with sickness and death, so they must develop a tolerance against seeing e.g. severed limbs, skin burns and necrosis, festering wounds etc. I'm sure a little magic wouldn't bother the doctor much.

^Shiki is a good example of that btw. Who's the most calm and collected resident, when the village is struck by tragedy? Wink
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2015 6:06 am Reply with quote
For this week's original commentary I'm segueing from Giovanni's Island to...

Night on the Galactic Railroad


Campanella (left) and Giovanni observing the wonders before them.

Reason for watching: Part of my project to watch milestone 20th century anime; the enormous influence the story has on anime; the fame of the original children's novel by Kenji Miyazawa; and Giovanni's Island.

Synopsis: Giovanni is an outsider at his school but for his friendship with the popular Campanella. With his father overdue from a long-distance fishing trip and his mother incapacitated by illness, Giovanni must work multiple jobs to feed his family. On the night of the Centaurus Festival he falls asleep on a hill overlooking his town. He dreams of a train, with a sodden Campanella on board. Together they go on a journey though the southern constellations of the Milky Way, having several strange encounters before arriving at the Southern Cross and the Coalsack. There Giovanni learns that Campanella must continue without him. The galactic journey uses symbolism to ponder death, grieving and happiness. Wakening, Giovanni discovers that his dream has presaged real events but also receives some welcome news.

Comments: Early in the film, the camera hovers above an isolated Italianate schoolhouse surrounded by a ring of cypresses atop a hill. The camera is our eyes, slowly floating downward as if it were a piece of paper blowing this way and that. There are no people to be seen and the viewer has the sense of being a spirit, detached from the scene but observing it. Electronic music, as if straight from Tangerine Dream's Rubycon and adding to the sense of strangeness, accompanies the descent. In one short sequence, utilising no more than one painting and some music, the building blocks of this sombre yet magical film are established.


Isolation and strangeness - Giovanni outside school.
The other students are gathered under the tree on the right.


Night on the Galactic Railroad looks and sounds to have been made on a tiny budget. That scene lingers on just one painting. As with almost all the rest of the movie there is no multiplaning. Most other scenes have just one background layer where the characters move around in static scenery or, perhaps with the camera panning or zooming. The absence of parallax creates a sense of artificiality, which nicely prepares us for the story's metaphysical leanings. You could say it is a case of making a virtue out of necessity. I'm convinced that the effect is intentional, partly because director Gisaburo Sugii adds to it with his highly artificial, naive and subdued artwork. The viewer is constantly reminded that this not a realist film, that we are dealing with inference, metaphor, symbols and parable. And besides, almost all the characters are cats. It sounds odd in prospect but I got used to it within a few minutes.

The scene also brings into relief the film's sense of isolation and detachment, of the individual's feeling of insignificance in a numinous universe. Again director Sugii builds upon that: Giovanni is an outsider; characters don't touch each other (Giovanni recoils if others get too close); there are long silences between characters and when they do talk the content of their speech is mundane; telephones remain unanswered; morse code messages are indecipherable; Giovanni's mother is never more than a disembodied voice. We never get inside Giovanni's or Campanella's heads, though we may imagine what Giovanni is thinking. This detachment is amplified by scenes that show the individual dwarfed by machinery or by the landscape or by the heavens. In one such scene paleontologists are digging for the remains of a prehistoric ancestor of the cow, unaware that their entire landscape is what they are searching for. Add to that a leisurely pace - ok, I'm a sucker for considered story telling - and the emphasis for the viewer is on thought and imagination, rather than thrills.


The individual dwarfed.

The film in punctuated by moments of majesty, sometimes ecstatic, always tempered with a sense of forboding or loss. My favourite is the birdcatcher who steps out of the train, to catch herons in midflight for his sack. What a wonderful thing it would be if we could capture flight and distil its essence. For candy. The stately music swells and climbs yet, despite the birdcatcher being superb at what he does, what is being witnessed is wholesale destruction. In another scene Eurasian magpies fly into trees and transform into apples. In yet another the beautiful opening bars to the slow movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony are played (well, a tinny synthesised version) over a scene of endless, empty fields while an enormous, unattached clock pendulum sways pointlessly. Even the sinking of the Titanic is magnificent in all its melancholy. The nod to symbolist and surrealist art movements is just another way for the film to say that our earthly reality is just one among others, if only we could enter those other worlds, as Giovanni does through his dream.


The Birdcatcher: rapture and violence.

Giovanni and Campanella observe it all with passive expressions. The camera lingers upon them time and again, offering no clue to what they may be thinking. It's as if the universe is altogether too ineffable, too large for their understanding. Their wide open eyes suggests bewilderment, but how can we tell for sure? "Campanella" means "little bell". It becomes apparent what his fate is before it is explicitly stated. He is a presentiment, a warning of what will eventually befall all of us. "Giovanni" can be traced back to Hebrew and means "graced by god". When his grace finally arrives it will entail both grief and understanding. There will be death and there will be hope.

Kenji Miyazawa's Buddhist beliefs come through in the film's sense of detachment, in its dialogue about death, happiness and sacrifice. The film also has numerous Christian motifs. I don't know if they are a layer added by the animators or whether they were present in Miyazawa's novel. Of course, even the name of the Southern Cross is redolent with Christian notions. Death and sacrifice are just as central to Christianity as they to Buddhism. Not so sure about happiness, though.


The Southern Cross. Yeah, kind of obvious.
Cats as nuns are kind of cute, though.


Despite the detachment and the passivity of the characters, the film builds its emotional power steadily from the Titanic segment through to the Coalsack segment, where we sense that Giovanni has at last realised the truth about Campanella. The power comes not from our regard for the characters but, rather, because the reflection the film encourages and with the subtle subconscious worm it hatches in our brains, that it is our mortality that is being foregrounded. Yes, we will all die but the universe is a wonderful place and all we can do is to try our best. It's a simple, unexceptional theme when all said and done, but it is argued with conviction.

Influence: Trains must rank with power lines and cherry blossoms as the most overused metaphors in anime. Having seen this film I can no longer contemplate any train scene in an anime without wondering if it's alluding to the protagonist's mortality. I've recently finished my first watch of Simoun where there's a scene where the Simoun pilots are travelling by train to a sacred place to make their final gender choice, an action forced upon them by circumstance. It will be a form of death for them as they will lose their status as Sibyllae with all its attendant powers and privileges. It smacks of Night on the Galactic Railroad. The novel's inspiration for the older film Galaxy Express 999 is well known. I can see a direct influence of the the novel or anime in Aria the Natural, Mawaru Penguindrum, Spirited Away and the abovementioned Giovanni's Island.

Personal observations: One of the pleasures of the film for me was its trip through the southern hemisphere night sky, culminating with the Southern Cross - the most prominent constellation of any on our end of the planet - and the Coalsack. In the film, Southern Cross station is where the dead disembark, "This is where we get to heaven," they declare. My city, Melbourne, is home to Southern Cross station, our major terminus for interstate and country passenger rail services as well as an important station on the suburban network. It's a magnificent, and relatively new, edifice. The picture here is from a travel website that included it in its ten most beautiful railway stations in the world. You have been told: travel to heaven by train and you will arrive in Melbourne, the world's most liveable city.


Southern Cross station, Melbourne.
I frequently find an excuse to change trains here.


Weirder yet. When planning this post I had always intended the Tangerine Dream reference. I can't be sure but the electronic gong sounds and drones in the early sequence in the film are highly suggestive of the opening of Rubycon, one of their most acclaimed pieces of music. In that early part of their career Tangerine Dream were avowedly surrealist. Their extended tracks began by suggesting one reality, an aural opening would appear, leading to an entirely different reality, then the music would return to its original state. The structure matches quite well the surrealist tone and structure of the film. They explore themes of fate, decay and death. Again, not unlike the film. I saw Tangerine Dream, led by their ageing mastermind Edgar Froese, perform late last year. While re-watching and thinking about the opening scene today I played Rubycon on YouTube and discovered that Froese died in January, just two months after I saw him perform. Here I was learning about the death of possibly the inspiration of one element in a film about death while listening to a piece of music about crossing metaphorical boundaries. Freaky.

With a couple of exceptions - a folk dance at the Centaurus Festival and the Hallelujah Chorus at the Southern Cross - the soundtrack to Night on the Galactic Railroad sounds like one (clever) person with a synthesizer. It's mostly effective, occasionally enhances the film significantly and sometimes sounds cheap and thin.

Rating: The low end of excellent. A low budget, leisurely pace and feline characters are possible impediments to enyoying a thoughtful, moving exploration of death and happiness. The seemingly serious subject matter is more than countered by its ecstatically grandiose scenes.

I also discovered today that Discotek, bless their souls, will be re-releasing Night on the Galactic Railroad in a couple of months. I'll report on the dub when I get hold of a copy. The visual quality of the fansub I watched is attrocious

See also: Justin Sevakis's Buried Treasure article.

****

19 December 2015 update: My copy of the DVD arrived today from Right Stuf in the US so I've replaced the images. There's a commentary track from ANN's own Justin Sevakis and Mike Toole. I look forward to listening to it.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 1:29 am; edited 3 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2015 5:46 am Reply with quote
For my midweek housekeeping I'm segueing from Night on the Galactic Railroad to the wondrous, never canonical Leijiverse. The comments below come from various posts in the What are you watching right now? Why? thread before my hubris completely took over. I've changed some of the ratings and added the pictures.

Galaxy Express 999 (movie)

Original Post 14 August 2011
Sub/dub comment 13 November 2011

Galaxy Express 999 opens with the surprising sight of a steam train hurtling between the galaxies. Straight away it’s clear that this film is throwing real world logic into the cosmic wind. The railway signals are telling us to suspend our disbelief, but that’s fine, because we are in the realm of mythmaking, not ordinary storytelling. Tetsuro’s voyage recalls The Odyssey where the protagonist either uses his wits to solve his problems or is blessed with divine assistance.

Young Tetsuro is travelling on the famous train to the planet of Great Andromeda, seeking a mechanical body so he can kill Count Mecha to avenge the death of his mother. Success seems unlikely but the gods and the fates are watching out for Tetsuro: the deus ex machina is hard at work. Help in the form of various intergalactic notables unfailingly pops up in timely fashion, getting him out of jams, giving him a handy tool, or providing the answer to a thorny problem. Captain Harlock, pirate queen Emeraldas, Tochiro and Antares are among the larger than life heroes who come to Tetsuro’s aid. These contrived interventions aren’t the problem they might be in an ordinary anime. This is not an adventure story about dramatic scrapes. It’s about the education of a young man who, through each encounter, learns about desire, loss and generosity. The lessons learned will hold him in good stead when he faces much harder tests.


Maetel

Journeying with him is Maetel, who has an agenda of her own. At once beautiful and authoritative, wise yet vaguely menacing, melancholy yet kindly, she has immediately become one of my favourite characters in anime. Acting as a sort of surrogate mother to Tetsuro (something more true than he first imagines) she seems to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders. Well, she does in a sense, as the viewer learns at the end of the rail journey.

All the female characters have a sadness about them, even the commanding Emeraldas. Is this typical for Leiji Matsumoto? They are each unforgettable: Shadow, the machine woman guarding the lovely body she abandoned, or Clare, who was forced to exchange her flesh for transparent crystal, or Ryuzu, the singer who took on machine form at the request of her lover. Their exquisite, wispy forms perfectly reflect their wistful natures.

The combination of grandeur and melancholy ensure I have a continuous emotional engagement while watching Galaxy Express 999. It’s all in the mythical power of a journey undertaken by two special characters that becomes a metaphor for life with all its joy and regrets.


Tetsuro

Rating: excellent.

****

I've been on something of a Leijiverse bender over the past few days. Back in August I downloaded a ripped dub of Galaxy Express 999 and liked it so much I recently ordered the DVD from Right Stuf as it's not available here in Australia. It arrived on Thursday and I've watched it twice since, once with the Japanese dub and again with the American dub.

I won't repeat the things I wrote in that post but, now that I've experienced both versions, I have to say I much prefer the American dub. What I like is the timbre of the voices of the American actors, particularly the two leads - Saffron Henderson as Tetsuro and Kathleen Barr as Maetel. The secondary characters are variable. Because these characters are larger than life, the actors that ham it up are actually more convincing. Terry Klassen owns the train conductor role, Scott McNeil is deliciously pompous as Captain Harlock while John Payne's deadpan delivery is perfect for Tochiro. Gerard Plunkett as the disembodied father of Maetel reminded me very much of Alan Rickman, which isn't a bad thing. The Japanese voice actors can't match the eccentric personalities of their American counterparts.

Maetel Legend

Original post 13 November 2011

Having fallen for Maetel I sought out and watched Maetel Legend. This prequel to the film tells the story of how Maetel's doomed home planet along with all its inhabitants are transformed into machines and of the consequent estrangement of Maetel from her mother, the queen Andromeda Prometheum. Despite these promising elements it lacks that hard-to-define spark that makes the original tale so compelling. In its favour are two memorable lead characters, the sisters Maetel and Emeraldas, some startling images, an occasionally ravishing orchestral soundtrack (the music box theme is particularly haunting), and, in their mother, an antagonist who is torn between responsibility towards her doomed people and her love for her daughters. Prometheum's inner conflict as her machine parts spread through her body and destroy her humanity is dramatic and compelling.


Mother and daughter: Prometheum and Maetel

The OAV is unfortunately spoiled by the plot being dominated by a villain, Hardgear, who wants to destroy all human life and rule the universe. And, yes, he laughs out loud whenever he contemplates his magnificent future. Spare me, please. Maetel comes across as just a tad too sweet, thereby diminishing the aura of authority so apparent in the original movie. Understandably the makers of this 2000 OAV sought to recreate the style of the original 1970s series but mostly succeeded in making it look very dated.

Rating: so-so.

Glass no Claire

Original post 13 November 2011

I also watched the 17 minute movie, Galaxy Express 999: Glass no Claire which is an alternative version of Claire's story except that she saves Tetsuro from a random monster instead of from Queen Prometheum, as depicted in the movie. Claire is a beautiful woman who was forced by her mother to exchange her organic body for crystal glass. The original movie tells her tale so much more convincingly. While Claire and Maetel have all the appeal of the film, Tetsuro's character design is dreadful and he comes across as just a silly kid. If you've seen the movie, don't bother.

Rating: bad

Queen Emeraldas

Original post 7 January 2012

Having enjoyed Galaxy Express 999 so much I happily chose this to fill my “Q” gap. While Emeraldas enlivens every scene in which she appears, this is a by-the-numbers production. A young boy wants to prove himself a man out there in the endless sea of stars; an assortment of villains wants to rule the universe or inflict sundry horrors upon everyone else; a tiresome comic relief character follows the young boy wherever he goes; and the plucky good guys come through despite the odds and with just a little help from the titular heroine. Emeraldas and her sister Maetel (who appears here momentarily) are such great creations that they can rise above any amount of mediocrity. Sadly, though, no Leijiverse anime I’ve yet seen comes together so magically as Galaxy Express 999.


Emeraldas

Rating: decent.

Adieu Galaxy Express 999

Original post 23 January 2012

Like the original Galaxy Express 999 this is quite a hodge-podge of a film. Unlike the original, however, the various elements fail to cohere so that, instead of being a coming of age story of mythic tone and proportions, it ends up as a middling space opera. My favourite character, Maetel, is absent for far too long and, when she finally appears, she plays pretty much the same role as she did in the original - the beautiful and mysterious woman who may be treacherous. But we know her true nature so there's no tension. Between these two movies and Maetel Legend, how many times does Maetel have to confront her mother? How often does her mother get resurrected? How many times must their homeworld be destroyed? How many homeworlds do they have? Four different ones as far as I can count. That's the wondrous Leijiverse for you.

Tetsuro is mostly an observer so there was little tension to keep me interested. He has done his growing up already so there's also no sense of him experiencing a right of passage. The Leijiverse heroes make their obligatory appearance as do a smattering of new characters but the encounters mostly come across as random adventures rather than valuable life lessons. The interventions of Emeraldas and Harlock are as contrived as ever but the mythic feel of the original is mostly absent.


Captain Harlock and Tetsuro

Still, Maetel and Tetsuro are great characters so all is not lost. Kathleen Barr and Saffron Henderson, respectively, continue their fine work. One thing: the design and posture of Maetel comes across as slightly wooden compared with the earlier movie. I don't think the issue is the acting but, rather, it eminates from Japan.

I'm coming to the conclusion that Rintaro isn't much of a director. I think he fluked something special with Galaxy Express 999.

Rating: so-so


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 2:10 am; edited 1 time in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2015 4:37 pm Reply with quote
And now for something completely different...

Simoun

Reason for watching: When I ordered the Noir BD from Right Stuf I figured, for the postage I was paying, that I might as well order something else unavailable in Australia; the price; the premise, along with its yuri content; and Theron Martin's reviews. This was a happy blind buy.


Simoun has some great characters. Mamina (from an eye-catch) is one of the best.
Check carefully what she cooks for you.


Synopsis: In a world that could be straight out of Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness all people on the planet Daikuuriku are born female. In some countries a person's gender is forced upon them at birth; in the nation of Simulacrum Kyuukoku a person chooses their gender at the mystic pool of Tempus Spatium when they turn seventeen. If they cannot decide, the guardian of the pool - Onasia - chooses for them. The only people exempted from the ceremony are the Sibyllae, the eternal maidens, pairs of whom fly the Simoun mecha to inscribe patterns in the sky using light from their wake. These powerful aerial glyphs, known as Ri Majon, have many functions ranging from dispensing bounty to offering protection to inflicting annihilation. The stronger the bond between the pairs, the more complex and powerful a Ri Majon they can create. Other nations covet the Simoun, leading to war between Simulacrum and the neighbouring industrial nations of Argentum and Plumbum. With varying degrees of reservation, the Sibyllae priestesses of the elite group known as Chor Tempest find themselves drawn into the war. As events spiral towards disaster the Sibyllae wonder whether the most powerful, most difficult and most dangerous Ri Majon of all - the Emerald Majon - could be the solution to their dilemmas, or something altogether more ambiguous.

Comments: About five episodes into Simoun it dawned on me how much I was enjoying the considered and deliberate pacing of the series. I think that 26 episodes is about the ideal length for most anime scenarios: more than that means too much filler; less than that limits complexity, ensemble size and character development. The first two-cour series I've watched this year, unless I count the second half of Fate / Stay Night: Unlimited Bladeworks as part of a larger series, Simoun uses its running time in a highly satisfying manner. It starts off by throwing the viewer into the deep end of the pool then steadily, carefully introduces the many characters, with all their fraught relationships, along with the complex lore of their world. This is done less with verbal exposition and more through interpersonal and international conflict. Once the terms of the story have been properly established the series forges ahead with the plot, reaching a martial climax in episode 22. The series then has space to explore the impact that resolution has upon the Sibyllae of Chor Tempest before concluding with a gratifying what-happened-afterwards final episode.


The Chor Tempest Sibyllae bookended by the protagonists (top to bottom, and left to right):
Aer, Alty, Amuria, Dominura
Elli, Floe, Kaim, Limone
Mamina, Morinas, Paraietta, Rotreamon
Vura, Yun, a one scene wonder, Neviril
There's a favourite for everyone.


At the core of the story is the large ensemble of mostly female characters, many of whom are memorable if not always appealing. Standouts for me are the feminine but commanding Neviril who can in quick order convey frailty and presence; the bold as brass Aer (whose name becomes a major plot point); the rebellious Mamina; and the thoughtful and stupendously heroic Yun (just consider what she takes on at the end). The beauty of having so many characters is that there is scope for people to have their favourites, while the 26 episode format allows the personalities to be fleshed out convincingly. Better yet, they don't rely upon moe stereotypes, instead having distinct personalities and motivations. Even if the Sibyllae don't appeal individually the relationships between them can compensate: the increasingly complex dependency between the baby-girly Limone and the conspiratorial Dominura is an excellent case in point. I liked neither, yet their story is one of the series' strengths. I found it illuminating in the extras discussion between director Junji Nishimura and character designer/chief animation director Asako Nishida when Nishimura mentioned that the development of that particular relationship progressed in an altogether unanticipated way.


Protagonists Neviril (left) and Aer: if they can become as one they may achieve the perfect Ri-Majon.

One of the fascinating things with Simoun, if not the most fascinating, is how gender is explored, including the way the male characters treat the females. This is where Simoun most brings to mind The Left Hand of Darkness. Remember that all males in Simulacrum were female until the age of 17, ie after puberty and with full physical development. Upon becoming male their female attributes recede (though not entirely) while they take on male characteristics. It means that the males, who are somewhat effeminate by our standards, have the scope to fully empathise with the females; and, for the most part, they do. Having all characters voiced by female seiyuu adds to the unique flavour of the series while simultaneously reinforcing this harmonious ideal. Nonetheless, one Sibylla does comment that men have more opportunities than women. In spite of that, the men treat the women with an easy familiarity instead of the usual sexual tension found in most fiction. There is sexual tension, but that's between the young women themselves, this being a yuri series after all. That's fine: the love polygons were fun. While the tangled relationships might indicate the creators had a female audience in mind, the Sibyllae oufits and character designs are clearly designed to service the male gaze. I get that the series is exploring notions of sexuality but the frequency of crotch and bum shots quickly became tiresome. I will console myself with the notion that, in a world where all people experience sexuality through a female perspective, then there may be no taboos about displaying female sexuality. Another consequence of being able to determine your own gender is that some people choose according to how it may suit the person they love. Again that raises fascinating questions about sexual identity. Great stuff.

There are plenty of other themes to get your mind around: how a person behaves when caught in a war they don't condone; how officers try to protect their charges in war; how a person can be corrupted performing an activity they love; whether religious morality has precedence over military or political necessity; and so on. All common enough themes in fiction but, thankfully, Simoun doesn't beat the viewer over the head with them. I also liked the growing-up theme running through the series. Like magical girls, the Sibyllae don't grow up; if they don't go to the pool of Tempus Spatium they don't age beyond 17. Much of the anguish for the girls involves accepting they must grow up. For one important character never growing up leads to a life of endless loneliness, despite her enduring beauty. Yet, to become an adult is to lose the power given to the Sibyllae by their youth: the ability to pilot the Simoun. In war they will die as Sibyllae or choose to grow up. The terror of piloting a mecha in war under duress and the fantastical abilities that both empower and doom the girls makes Simoun somthing of a link between Neon Genesis Evangelion and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.


Simoun in battle. They don't have radios, so guess how the Sibyllae communicate.

The mechanical designs are a highlight of the series. Simulacrum machines eschew the normal angular mecha geometry found in much other anime in favour of curves and soft edges. Yes, even the machines have a feminine grace to them. Arcus Prima, the gigantic, aerial carrier come battleship is part nautilus, part caterpillar (the animal variety), part Sydney Opera House. The Simoun are built around what appear to be rotating insect larvae, though they look much better, with their sweeping hyperbola wings, than what that analogy might suggest. The Argentum and Plumbum fighting craft are much more industrial - polluting, metallic and mechanical. A 19th century French-style battleship was a nice touch. The machinery is high definition CGI while the characters are standard anime 2D. More controversial for some will be the flat, watercolour backgrounds. Yes, this is a personal response, but I found them visually appealing, even occasionally reaching the level of downright scenery porn. Their artificiality accentuated the strangeness of the world I was visiting. Each time I sat down to watch it, the moment the artwork appeared I was transported far, far away. I've read criticisms of the background art, so be warned. I will say, though, that the DVD cover has to be just about the worst one in my collection: it's ugly, stupid looking, and both Neviril and Aer are off-model - Neviril seriously so. I wonder sometimes how self-respecting companies can put out such crap. Making up for that is a soundtrack that, while very derivative, never fails to enhance what's happening on screen. It ranges in style from techno rhythms to classical rip-offs to tangos; and generates sensations from foreboding, to thrilling, to ironic. I think it's one of the best to be found in anime.


Simoun and Sibyl: graceful and deadly; ancient and forever young.

Rating: The high end of excellent. I've watched it twice in quick succession and if it proves to have a high re-watch value I'll possibly upgrade it to masterpiece. Simoun combines great story telling with fascinating thematic development, with each embellishing the other. Add to that a large ensemble of memorable and well-defined characters in entangled relationships, along with a thrilling soundtrack and, on balance, appealing visuals and the result is a series that provided me with immense pleasure.

Further reading: Theron Martin's reviews.
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
(What happened to volume 4?)
Volume 5


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 2:42 am; edited 1 time in total
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Akane the Catgirl



Joined: 09 Oct 2013
Posts: 1091
Location: LA, Baby!
PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2015 7:46 am Reply with quote
Hey there, Errinundra! It's Akane, from the Akane Analyzes thread! (Please comment back; I'm lonely over there.) Anyway, I've been thumbing through your reviews, and I think you're doing a fantastic job! I think you have very interesting things to say and unique ways of looking at anime! I'm actually kind of jealous, to be honest. Sorry.

I'd like to see your thoughts on Fate zero and Paranoia Agent on here. I myself am a fan of the Urobutcher, and found a lot more value on watching Paranoia Agent the second time. Also, have you seen the short films Fumiko's Confession and Gisoku no Moses? They're both available on Youtube for free, and I enjoyed both of them. The first is only in Japanese, but it's a very visual story. The second uses audio from Singin' in the Rain. Thanks, and see you soon!
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2015 2:35 pm Reply with quote
Thanks for your kind words, Akane the Catgirl (to use your full title).

Fumiko's Confession and Gisoku no Moses look interesting. Neither are in the ANN encyclopaedia. You can support adding the former to the encyclopaedia - it has already been submitted - by going here and submit the latter for inclusion by going here.

Fate / Zero and Paranoia Agent are definitely worth reviewing, but I've got quite a few titles ahead of them on my list.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 07, 2015 4:27 am Reply with quote
This week's housekeeping review was originally posted on 27 March 2013. I have edited the pictures.

Haibane Renmei

Reason for watching: Actually, this is an old favourite of mine. Madman have only ever had volume 1 (episodes 1-4) available so, unwittingly, I ordered a bootleg from SE Asia. Other than a scratch that made it unplayable on some machines the quality wasn't too bad. After it was licence saved in the US late last year I used some Christmas money to import a copy. Finally! A legit copy of one of my favourite shows. Then Sony Australia announced they were re-releasing it locally. Them's the breaks.

Synopsis: A young women dreams of falling from the sky and awakens inside a giant egg. After the egg hatches she cannot remember anything of her past other than fragments of the dream but gains a pair of ash coloured wings, a halo and the name Rakka. She settles down with more of her kind, called haibane, in a severely constrained world where ownership of personal goods is heavily proscribed and movement is forbidden outside the town walls. The Haibane live a quite, peaceful existence while they await their "day of flight", supposedly when they finally go beyond the walls of their existence. While the cheerful young Kuu is able to achieve her day of flight easily, Rakka's self-appointed mentor, Reki, finds the transition a much more fraught experience.

Warning: This rumination is somewhat spoilerific, particularly when I get around to discussing the theme of suicide. You have been warned.

Comments: In a sense, Haibane Renmei could be considered as a harem show missing its central male character. The six main female characters fit the character types so common to the genre (without the exaggerations, of course): the tsundere (Reki), the girly girl (Hikari), the tomboy (Kana), the active girl (Kuu), the vague girl (Nemu) and the average girl (Rakka) who, under normal circumstances, would be the one who gets the boy. Happily, the absence of a dominating male character gives them breathing space, allowing them to develop and shine, particularly Reki and Rakka. This is their story, unmediated by a male lead and not intended to have the adolescent male viewer as its vicarious subject.


L-R: Hikari, three young feathers, Rakka, Kuu, Kana, Nemu & Reki.
Reki has the young feathers in a death stare.


After a memorable first episode where Rakka earns her wings and her halo, the next four episodes are a pleasant journey of discovery as we learn about the world of the haibane through the eyes of Rakka. Although they lack the impact of later events, the early episodes subtly lay the framework for what is to follow and introduce the mysteries that become central to what Haibane Renmei is about.

Much of the charm of Haibane Renmei comes from these unexplained mysteries, such as what the Haibane actually are; or the purpose of their existence; or why they are chosen for that peculiar existence, or what happens on their day of flight; or what lies beyond the walls. These unanswered questions may be frustrating but they don’t serve merely to add atmosphere to the charming but emotional tales of a group of young women in strange circumstances. Nor do they simply serve as prompts for the viewer to ponder the mysteries of life, the universe and everything. Well, not quite. Haibane Renmei is rich in Zen allusions. The mysteries of Haibane Renmei are, in effect, koans where the viewer is not expected to solve the puzzles but, rather, to gain insight by pondering the questions presented. The most explicit koan of the anime is asked of Rakka by the Communicator after her rescue from the well and his discovery that she is sin bound. As in classical Zen storytelling, the teacher asks the pupil a paradoxical question that requires not a direct answer but prompts the pupil to see reality in a new way. “To recognise one’s own sin is to have no sin. Now, I ask you, are you a sinner?” Breaking out of the cycle of confusion is to become enlightened. To be enlightened is symbolised by the day of flight. Kuu's swiftly arriving day of flight should come as no surprise. She is uncomplicated, sensing, in tune with the activities of the world around her. By comparison Reki and Rakka are ensnared by their thoughts and their feelings of guilt. Their day of flight will be a struggle for them.


Rakka. It's hard to imagine her being the sort who would earn a spot as a Haibane.

Haibane Renmei also blends in Christian motifs with its Zen. Sin and redemption are much more associated with the former. If Kuu’s day of flight is the product of enlightenment, then Reki’s is the product of redemption. The world of the haibane might be considered purgatory and the day of flight the final journey to heaven. The anime strongly suggests that suicide is the sin to be atoned. When Rakka, at the bottom of a well, remembers her dream in the giant egg, her suicide is strongly inferred. Reki’s dream is much more explicit – she threw herself under a train. We don’t get the same insights with the other haibane but their names are suggestive: Rakka (falling, ie jumping from a high place), Reki (pebbles, railway ballast), Nemu (sleeping, overdose), Kana (river fish, drowning), Hikari (sparkling lights, electrocution). Kuu, meaning air, has me tossed. If you haven’t been put to sleep yet, perhaps you might suggest something. And then there are the young feathers. Children don’t commit suicide, do they? Why are there so many of them in this world? Just another mystery.

This may seem grim but, despite the emotional intensity of the second half of the series, the series has an overall positive tone, thanks largely to the lovable central six central characters. Reki, in particular, had me thoroughly engaged by her emotional journey. She is, at once, cool, earthy, wise, blind, angry and loving. She is an exemplar for the Buddhist notion of lovingkindness. Her initial motivation to act kindly towards the other Haibane to save herself is entirely selfish. Yet, her behaviour becomes customary and, without even realising it, she turns into the real thing.


Reki. She sure has to earn her day of flight.

Rakka, the point of view character, is sweet but, being so young, her supposed sin bound state is never entirely convincing. I find it difficult to imagine someone of her nature committing suicide or otherwise doing something dreadful to another person. The other women of Old Home are also appealing but, not receiving the same authorial attention as Reki and Rakka, they don’t leave the same lasting impression. The communicator is both kindly and vaguely sinister but like the rest of the minor characters, is functional without standing out.

On a technical level, the artwork and animation are often slipshod but that’s all right because it kind of fits the rustic, re-cycled nature of the haibane world. Indeed, the muted greens and browns give added expression to the austere life of the haibane. Austere perhaps, but they aren’t unhappy. Kô Ôtani provides one of his best ever musical scores, using traditional instruments such as bodhrán, South American flute, harp, mandolin, mouth organ and squeezebox to enhance the folky, traditional feel of the series. The opener, Free Bird, is one of my all time favourites.

Rating: masterpiece, though just a smidgeon away from being downgraded to excellent.

Further reading/listening:
Theron Martin's review
ANNCast Baby, I Can See Your Halo with Hope Chapman, Zac Bertschy and Matt Von Gonten
Nick Creamer's essay The Dream of Redemption in Haibane Renmei emphasising its Christian motifs


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 2:58 am; edited 1 time in total
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Akane the Catgirl



Joined: 09 Oct 2013
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Location: LA, Baby!
PostPosted: Thu Oct 08, 2015 9:15 am Reply with quote
Akane again. (This time, don't forget to visit my Akane Analyzes and leave a comment. All I have for an audience is chirping crickets.) I wanted to leave some of my own comments after reading your latest post.

To me, a bad story at worst and a mediocore story at best is one that tells you answers. A masterpiece is one that asks you questions so that you can find the answers yourself. At least, that's my take on it.

I personally wouldn't say that ALL of the Haibane committed suicide. Rather, they are children who most likely haven't done enough good deeds to get into heaven/the next life/whatever. There's actually a really good fanfiction I encountered called Before We Had Wings, which is all about how some of the Haibane died. Though in that story, Hikari was hit by a car, Nemu died from a childhood illness, and Kuu was killed in a plane accident.

Also, did you notice the self-harm metaphor in Episode Seven? Rakka's conflict about her wings turning black and how she tries to cut the feathers suspiciously resembles someone cutting their arm. Her hiding her gradually darkening wings also resembles someone trying to hide their scars. Considering that wings are just feathered arms, and that Kuu for all intents and purposes died in the previous episode, it makes you wonder.

Personally, I think Rakka's suicide was more impulsive than Reki's. The crow seems to be the soul of someone Rakka knew. Perhaps they passed away, and Rakka killed herself in grief afterwards? Likewise, Reki probably planned her suicide for a while. That's my theory anyway.

Also, Reki is best character. No denying it. I'll have to watch the show again so I can explain in more detail why. But for now, Reki is amazing.

I also wanted to explain a little more about the short films I mentioned. The creator of Gisoku no Moses has a Pixiv account that I've actually visited. Likewise, the name of the guy who made Fumiko's Confession is named Hiroyasu Ishida, and I think this was his senior film in college. He's done more stuff, but I haven't seen his other short films.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 08, 2015 4:50 pm Reply with quote
Hi, Akane, again.

I think suicide is essential to the storytelling. As someone who has had episodes of depression my experience is that thoughts of suicide arise when problems seem awful and insoluble. The situations I found myself in were analogous to a koan. Haibane Renmei suggests that the seemingly imponderable koan of suicide can be resolved if the whole situation is viewed differently. It argues so in a very sympathetic way. This interpretation of the series is also why I think limiting analysis to its Christian motifs is, well just that, limiting. On that theme, I concur with your self-harm analysis: you make a good point.

That aside, I'll post in your thread when I have something useful to say. Wink
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 10, 2015 2:23 am Reply with quote
Little Witch Academia 1 & 2

Reason for watching: The fun of playing Kickstarter supporter. The Enchanted Parade bluray and artbook arrived not quite two weeks ago.

Synopsis (Little Witch Academia): Inspired by her childhood hero, the witch Shiny Chariot, Akko enrols at Luna Nova Academy to follow in her footsteps. The misguided enthusiasm of the young witchlings at the academy releases a dragon from long captivity. Akko, her friends Sucy and Lotte, her rival Diana Cavendish, and her sensei Ursula (who may be more than she appears), must prevent the dragon from devouring the Sorcerer's Stone that is the source of all the witches' power.

Synopsis (Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade): Akko, Sucy and Lotte are tasked with organizing a parade commemorating the role of witches for the annual town festival. Sleeping giants, ambitious mayors, insolent boys, the girls' own squabbling and copious amounts of magic combine to create a spectacular event. (Yes. I've plagiarised myself again.)


Akko, Lotte and a glimpse of Sucy. The other characters are constantly shaded by the blazing Akko.
(Little Witch Academia)


Background: Finance for these films came from unusual sources for anime. The first was funded by the Japanese Agency of Cultural Affairs to the tune of ¥38 million through its Young Animator Training Project, also known as Anime Mirai (Future Anime), and administered by the Japanese Animation Creators Associaton. Strict conditions were imposed on the animation production house Studio Trigger, requiring them to train five inexperienced key animators on the premises under the guidance of former Gainax animator, Yoh Yoshinari. The second film was substantially funded through a Kickstarter campaign that raised US$625,518 from 7,938 backers. That's roughly 50% more than Studio Trigger received for the first film from government sources, hence its longer run time, which necessitated augmenting the five apprentice key animators. Both blurays include highly informative documentaries about the young men's experiences.

Comments: One of the appealing things about Little Witch Academia is that the relatively independent funding sources for the films allowed Studio Trigger not only the freedom to create an anime that looks like few others but also to give the young key animators scope to pursue their craft. As one wag here at ANN put it, the reason Little Witch Academy looks so un-Japanese is that it's actually animated. The documentary with the first film points out that a typical Japanese anime of its length would have 2,000 to 3,000 key frames, wheras Little Witch Academia had 17,000. One of the animators explains how it took him a week to complete the key frames for 4½ second fireworks shot. ("Just for one bang," was his rueful comment.) An experienced background artist spent nine hours for a background image that is used for a similar length of time. It's a gorgeous image and is reproduced in the artbook that came with the Kickstarter bluray. He also points out that LWA is unusual these days in having its backgrounds painted rather than created by computer. Mind you, they still had to rush to meet their deadlines so some scenes are better than others.


Things never settle down for long. The humour is hammy, but it adds to the fun.
(Little Witch Academia)


It's all very well going into the technical aspects behind the films but, happily, the freedom and effort have resulted in two films that revel in their movement and their colour. The first film, in particular, is quite unable to stand still, rushing from one incident to the next. The effect is quite magical. Now, I say that deliberately, not simply because it's lame pun on the content, but also because the documentaries constantly draw an analogy between animation and magic. LWA goes further than that, though. I have to admit to being slow on the uptake but it wasn't until I got to the end of the second documentary where it points things out in no uncertain terms that I got it: the stories of the young witches parallel the experiences of the young key animators. Both groups are apprentices under the stern but kindly watch of their seniors; both must attend sleep-inducing lectures; go on field trips; get overwhelmed by the projects they undertake; forgo sleep to meet deadlines; and achieve success despite the odds. At the climax of the second film the young witches must even rely upon CROWD SUPPORT to defeat an awakened giant, after wowing the crowd with their initial efforts.

(There's a marvellous moment in the second documentary where a seriously sleep deprived animator, struggling to open his eyes beyond the narrowest of slits, says after his incoherent response to a question, "To be honest, I'm not even sure what I'm talking about right now. Sorry." I suppose it wasn't so marvellous for him.)


Diana and Akko. You just know they secretly admire each other. Love the two-tone green hair.
(Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade)


The sense of fun and magic is also present in the character and monster designs. The former are all gangly movement, flailing limbs, exaggerated postures and hyper-expressive faces. The latter mingle grossness with ridiculousness, while their demises can be highly amusing. What Sucy does to a minotaur ("Excuse me, Mr Cow," as a fansub more correctly translates than the official sub) is priceless and matched by the expression on the face of the magic-devouring dragon in its last moments. While the character designs are untypical of anime norms, links with contemporaries are noticeable. The protagonist Akko has a smidgeon of K-On! about her. Like the films themselves, Akko cannot keep still - her arms and legs, facial features, hair are all over the place. She has a personality to match: hyperactive, optimistic, loud-mouthed and subject to violent mood swings. What she lacks in judgement and competence she makes up with energy and good intentions. Few of the other characters, though, can match her expressive range. They have their roles to play, bouncing off Akko, and so tend to have fewer mood changes. My favourite is sleepy-eyed, insouciant, fungus obsessed Sucy. Akko's other close friend, timid Lotte, doesn't, as her nature would suggest, smack you in the face with her actions. I liked Akko's chief rival, the super-student Diana Cavendish. Despite her haughtiness, she always helps out in the clinches and by the end of The Enchanted Parade you get the hint that she actually likes Akko, presumably for her energy, enthusiasm and entertainment value. Sensei Ursula's seeming ditzy behaviour masks her true capabilities. She is always there to lend a hand, usually by giving her charges the space to show their mettle. In the climax of The Enchanted Parade she has sufficient faith in them to act as crowd-warmer even when it isn't at all clear to the viewers how the witches are going to win the day.


Sucy. I used to have a girlfriend who looked just like that of a morning. She had a coffee mug that said,
"Do not disturb. Still in process of waking up." Maybe that's why Sucy is my favourite character.
(Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade)


I marginally prefer the first film. Being shorter it lacks a linking plot thread. Each tableau rushes headlong breathlessly. It revels in its non-stop activity and loses nothing by it. The sequel has a goal, setbacks, conflicts, climax and resolution. Sometimes the requisites of plot development puts a brake on the fun. And that's the thing: the films are frivolous. They're short and snappy and, yes, their stories have a fun link with the circumstance under which they were made, but they're flummery, fun to consume and eventually forget. So, high marks for entertainment and technical prowess. Points lost for a lack of substance or gravitas. In fairness, gravitas would likely diminish the fun but, then, an exceptional anime would somehow combine substance with fun. LWA would also fail my imaginary peer test: I wouldn't show it to my non-anime-watching contemporaries; it's a kid's show. Good thing I'm still a kid at heart.

Ratings: Little Witch Academia - good; Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade - decent. That's a harsh judgement on the latter but I want to separate them by grade.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 3:26 am; edited 4 times in total
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Redbeard 101
Oscar the Grouch
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 10, 2015 9:26 pm Reply with quote
Quote:
Rakka, the point of view character, is sweet but, being so young, her supposed sin bound state is never entirely convincing. I find it difficult to imagine someone of her nature committing suicide or otherwise doing something dreadful to another person.

Honestly I always figured her situation was a case of suicide. Which made it all the more fitting she was the one who helped Reki. She reminds me a lot of the young guy from Death Parade spoiler[who also took his life after finally caving into his depression while not really seeming like the type to do so.]
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 3:03 am Reply with quote
Yes. You're right. Nice people commit suicide sometimes.
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Night fox



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PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 5:18 am Reply with quote
Are Diana and Akko "rivals" by any chance? When I saw the picture of them, I immediately thought of Luvia and Rin from Fate/Illya. Smile

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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 5:29 am Reply with quote
I haven't seen Fate/Illya so I'm not picking up the nuances of your scare quotes.

I feel so inadequate. Confused
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Night fox



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PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 5:42 am Reply with quote
I suppose the quotation marks were unnecessary. I simply wonder if their pride gets in the way of their friendship? You know, in the typical tsundere fashion. Wink
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