The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
INUYASHIKI LAST HERO
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Inuyashiki Last Hero ?
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How was the first episode?
Inuyashiki is a story of extremes. It is both a heartfelt and emotional story about the lonely melancholy of growing old, and a CG-heavy superhero show filled with bombast and spectacle. It has nothing but sympathy for its unique and likable protagonist, the titular Ichiro Inuyashiki, but it views almost everyone else around him with contempt disdain. His family is ignorant to his simple emotional needs, and the world is teeming with young punks ready to murder innocent people on a whim at a moment's notice. Ichiro lives in an ugly and hostile world, but he's a genuinely good man seeking to make it better with his newfound abilities.
Inuyashiki's drastic fluctuation between sentimentality and nihilism makes sense, given that it comes from a manga by Hiroya Oku, the creator of Gantz. That series was infamous in my early teens for being the most bloody, titillating, and visceral one that could be easily read (before pirating became ubiquitous practice). On the surface, Gantz and Inuyashiki share a familiar setup. A character on the brink of death, with nothing in his life to keep him going, is visited by a mysterious alien force that grants him extravagant abilities and gives him an opportunity for a second chance at life. But despite those similarities in subject matter and general aesthetic, Inuyashiki is a different animal entirely.
The crux of this can be pinned on the protagonist of Ichiro, whose entire existence is tragic enough to almost be comical. The one thing that keeps you from laughing at Ichiro outright is his portrayal as such a nakedly kind and pathetic figure; you just can't help but feel bad for the guy. That also means that seeing Ichiro get a fancy robot body to fight off those rotten, murderous kids is appropriately thrilling, and it sets up all sorts of wonderful scenarios where a Nice Old Robot Man can go around righting wrongs and stopping bad guys. The episode is generally excellent-looking to boot, which helps sell both the pathos and the ridiculous robot stuff, and the CG actually works fairly well given the context and style of the show, though there were still a couple shots where the CG models of Ichiro and his dog felt unnecessary. The back half of the episode had some janky editing and pacing, but given the amount of ground being covered in this first episode, I'm willing to forgive it that.
What's a bit harder to swallow is just how unrepentantly awful everyone else in the show is. Ichiro's family ignores his existence, he's constantly being harassed by complete strangers, and the kids he fends off in the park are completely willing to beat two old men to death with baseball bats for the hell of it. This is the kind of nihilism that gives me Gantz flashbacks, and I'm wondering if it's sustainable in the long run (we haven't even seen what the Strange Boy that also got robot powers is up to, though I'm guessing it's not good). It isn't enough to ruin an otherwise entertaining and engaging premiere, and I'll definitely be checking Inuyashiki out more in the future. I just hope the show leaves us with a glimmer of hope in the end; it sure would be a shame to watch Ichiro's life go down the toilet twice.
Okay, let's get one thing out of the way first: this show has absolutely zero chill. Fortunately, that's just the way I like it.
Starting with the opening theme's extremely provocative visuals set to the always-loud MAN WITH A MISSION (OP director Yuzuru Tachikawa continues to prove himself unspeakably talented), then moving into the episode's main content where a slough of teens are inhumanly cruel to the rapidly aging generation around them, Inuyashiki definitely has a bone to pick with something, and your mileage with its message is bound to vary. Given the framing of everything so far, I have some reason to suspect that not everyone in Ichiro's life will be the worst possible person to him all the time. (There seems to be some hope for his daughter in particular, since she gets more perspective shots than anyone else in the show besides Ichiro.) However, since this was written by the creator of GANTZ, things are probably going to get much more nihilistic before they get any brighter. We haven't even seen more than two seconds of him, but the nice young feller who now shares Ichiro's robo-fate seems like Bad News.
So while I'm not sure how well I'll jive with Inuyashiki's point of view as time goes on, I can't deny the sheer spectacle and emotional power of this extremely well-directed premiere. Save for a few unnecessary shots of CG people and puppies, the direction and cinematography on display in this episode are downright cinematic, especially in its show-stopping last quarter. (The robotic aspects of the show's CG are elaborate and integral enough to not really bother me, but again, your mileage may vary, since those CG pistons are part of a very human old man.) From the pacing to the tone to the outstanding storyboarding and music, Inuyashiki has utmost confidence in the story it wants to tell and knows how to tell it superbly. I was moved, intrigued, and thoroughly entertained by this episode from start to finish, not just because of impressive production values but because every scene in it screams with sincerity, like the people at work adapting this story really believe in what it has to say and want to make it resonate.
There are plenty of anime out there with polish that don't seem to have much confidence in the kind of story they're telling, i.e. last season's weirdly hollow and off-putting Welcome to the Ballroom. There are also anime with strong source material that might choose to hold back in adaptation and play things a little safely, like the first episode of this season's exceptional but perhaps not yet inspired The Ancient Magus' Bride. Inuyashiki's story has only just begun, and just looking at the premise on paper, I'm not sure I would be that excited about it, but the series demonstrates so much artistic gusto from its arresting first few seconds to its tear-jerking final moments that I can't help but be excited for more. There's an enormously talented team working on this show at MAPPA, and I want to see how they bring the best out of this material.
It's a strange thing to say, but I'd probably like this show a lot more if it didn't have a plot.
At least, Inuyashiki's first nine minutes don't have much of one. Instead, they simply catalog the daily struggles of Ichiro Inuyashiki, a 58-year-old man who looks and feels like he's in his mid-70s. Ichiro's joints ache, and his kids can't relate to him. On the train to work, he fantasizes about standing up to young hooligans, but he can't work up the nerve. Strong direction and beautiful music drive home the melancholy of Ichiro's life, with Ichiro's own excellent expressions removing the need for any exposition. By the time Ichiro learns he has terminal stomach cancer, I was fully on board with his sad little story. Watching Ichiro's family ignore his phone calls one after another was one of the more dramatically effective moments of this season's premieres.
Then a plot crash-lands into this lovely character study, in the form of a giant alien ship. Ichiro and a young man beside him are cleanly crushed by the ship, so to avoid getting an intergalactic speeding ticket (presumably), the aliens quickly reconstruct Ichiro and the other boy in super-powered robot form. Now Ichiro can shoot lasers out of his back and bullets out of his fingers, and he will apparently use these powers to fight for justice.
Tragically detoured character study aside, Inuyashiki's true premise certainly has its own appeal. There's something inherently funny about applying a stale sci fi conceit to a grumpy old white-haired protagonist, and Inuyashiki has a strong understanding of its own natural comedy. Understatement is the key here - just like with the opening segment's lack of narration, Inuyashiki doesn't underline the humor of Ichiro freaking out when his arm starts venting steam, and the reveal of his now-mechanical head only inspires an “oh my goodness.” I could definitely watch a story about this guy fighting the good fight.
Unfortunately, I'm not terribly tempted to watch this particular version of that story. After the initial reveal of Ichiro's nature, the storytelling starts to get both clumsy and mean, culminating in a sequence where a bunch of teens with fireworks and bats actually try to murder Ichiro and another homeless man. The sequence felt both somewhat nonsensical and weirdly vicious, giving me a strong suspicion that Inuyashiki's view of humanity will be too nihilistic for me to find insightful or entertaining. I might give the show another episode, but fundamental issues of tone or worldview rarely change over time (unless you start with an ill-advised fakeout episode like Saga of Tanya the Evil).
Aesthetically, Inuyashiki is also mixed. On the positive side, I really loved the direction of this episode, to the point where I'll definitely be keeping an eye on director Shuhei Yabuta's future work. The compositions are striking, character designs appealing in a fairly realistic way, and pacing of shots very strong. The music is also a strong mark in this show's favor, offering lovely melodies and diverse compositions to match the show's melancholy, funny, and dramatic moments. On the negative side, Inuyashiki's capricious use of just-okay CG models consistently pulled me out of the work, and the more the show leaned into its sci fi trimmings, the more the CG showed up. The episode's finale setpiece actually put the CG to good work in an ambitious panning shot, but on the whole, I found it distracting.
Overall, I'd say this is one of the more interesting premieres of the season, though I'm not sure I'll keep up with it. If you're okay with the show's CG and don't share my issues with the tone, it looks to be a pretty interesting ride. Even old fogies deserve the chance to save the day.
When I first heard about this series, I was mildly intrigued by the premise of a man at the upper end of middle age becoming a super-hero, but boy was I not expecting this. Almost every anime season has at least one big surprise, and this one has arrived at the tail end of the season.
We've all seen tales of down-on-their-luck characters who are suddenly thrust into a new world of opportunities by gaining super-powers before, but the recipients of such boons are almost always young characters, who haven't had an opportunity to live their lives yet. Ichiro has, and it hasn't gone well, giving this initial episode an entirely different tone. There is no youthful spunk or enthusiasm here; this is a man who has long been beaten down by life, treated indifferently by his wife and ignored by his kids, who refer to him as their grandfather in front of their friends. His work is drudgery, his commute is unpleasant, and his dream of standing up to rude teenagers will never be achieved. And yet he still cares enough about his life to take in an abandoned dog and cry over his impending demise. Overall, the events before the aliens come into the picture is heartbreaking on a level you just don't see in similar shows.
His transformation comes as a result of the classic “aliens accidentally killed me but have reconstructed me” scenario, but the series breaks the mold there as well. We only hear the aliens, not see them, and they don't hang around to explain anything. As Ichiro gradually starts to realize that something really weird has changed about him, he doesn't know what to make of it, and although his vision has improved, he still can experience pain. So when he decides to take on the packs of thugs assaulting the homeless man (whose attempts to reconcile with his wife have an uncommon kind of emotional weight to them), he doesn't become an instant badass. He's just an old man trying to stand up for another until they take him down – seeing his new body take all of them down and send out video of their actions and identities out to local TV has to be seen to be fully appreciated. The scene at the end where the homeless man thanks Ichiro, causing him to realize that he probably saved a life, was also emotional beyond my expectations.
Major kudos go to chief director Keiichi Sato, who helmed titles like Karas, Tiger & Bunny, and the Rage of Bahamut franchise, for the precise and delicate touch of this episode. This is also another fine visual effort by studio MAPPA, including fantastic mechanical visuals like the ones in the screenshot above, and I'd love to know who's responsible for the wonderfully evocative musical score as well. Opening theme “My Hero” by the band MAN WITH A MISSION is also one of the season's finest in both song and visuals.
Maybe this episode resonated with me a little more because I am a bit older, but I think anyone could find a lot to appreciate here. I sure did.
Inuyashiki's first ten minutes rival Up's in terms of how amazingly depressing they are. What's worse is that it's the kind of awful you know happens every day – Ichiro Inuyashiki is beaten down by life, looks at least 80 rather than his actual age of 58, and his family is horrible. He faces discrimination due to his elderly appearance on the train, no one answers the phone when he calls—my god, they don't even want to let him keep the dog he saved because she'll “make the house smell.” It really feels like a blessing when he's accidentally killed by a random alien spaceship, because at least now he can haunt his terrible family Junji Ito-style, i.e. gruesomely.
But this is a science fiction piece, not a horror show, at least not in the sense of traditional horror. The aliens do save Ichiro's life after taking it – he (and more worryingly the jerk teenager near him) is reborn as a sentient humanoid weapon, basically the same but with amazing mechanized abilities. Not only does this cure Ichiro of his terminal cancer, it allows him to strike back against the injustices he sees in the world around him, which I sincerely hope include how his family treats him. More seriously, given the basic psychological differences between Ichiro and the boy who has also been remade (and we haven't seen what he'll do yet), I suspect that we're going to get a variation on themes from both Death Note and Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility, but even that responsibility depends upon your own moral code.
There's definitely an interesting generational setup being explored here as well. 90% of the younger people Ichiro interacts with are cruel, either sadistically or in ways that suggest a basic lack of manners. At the end of the episode, when Ichiro shows the cruelty of a group of such kids to the entire country, there's outrage, but no one else came to help the man they were tormenting despite the fact that it was obvious something bad was going on in the park. Just like no one stopped the kids picking on Ichiro on the train beforehand, only Ichiro seems to care about what happens to other people. Whether or not this is a statement on “kids these days” remains to be seen, but it feels like a distinct and potentially uncomfortable possibility.
Inuyashiki definitely needs at least one more episode to get its feet firmly underneath it before I can really say whether or not it will be too heavy-handed. It does have potential right now, even if I'm not thrilled with the animation, and we rarely get to see older characters take center stage in any genres let alone action stories, so that alone is a good hook. It'll be worth seeing if this can get off the ground in the next couple of weeks—unless they hurt the dog, in which case I'm out of here.
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