Summer 2014 Anime

My sporadic habit of blogging every new anime season continues! vlcsnap-2014-07-05-07h58m13s192 Tokyo Ghoul

It’s anime Tokyo! This version of anime Tokyo is just like real Tokyo, except there are flesh eating vampire/zombie mashups called Ghouls running around eating people, an occurrence that’s apparently so common milquetoast anime dude Kaneki doesn’t blink twice at news reports of violent serial Ghoul killings while waiting for a date to arrive at a cafe. She doesn’t show up, but he does run into a beautiful woman who’s into the same novels as him. Date time!

Unfortunately she turns out to be a Ghoul and lures Kaneki into a dark alleyway for some sexual abuse-tinged feeding. A freak accident and some unscrupulous surgery from a profoundly shady doctor saves his life, but ends up leaving him Ghoul-ified, and he must now struggle mightily to control his sudden urge to eat raw human flesh.

The promotional art for this one kind of put me off (Kaneki apparently acquires an extremely stupid looking rubber mask), but this first episode is at first glance stylish and fast-paced. The plot skips along nicely and it’s entertaining to see Kaneki, who clearly believes he’s in a fluffy rom-com, blunder headfirst into the dark, gruesome world of the Ghouls.

That said the show also seems to be distinctly rough around the edges. It’s got visual style but its technical merits are severely lacking (Kaneki’s face is consistently poorly drawn and characters in general aren’t animated very well), none of the characters are terribly interesting and the plot is already entering thuddingly obvious territory (gosh do you think the mysterious girl who keeps showing up in the background will be significant?). I also worry that the show isn’t going to be quite as interesting going forward as the premise might lead one to assume at first glance. The fact that some of the Ghouls appear to have AWESOME FIGHT POWERS suggests a succession of bland Ghoul-of-the-week encounters, and Kaneki is simply not that compelling a character. The frequent use of shaky-cam also sometimes strays into ridiculous territory, particularly when you factor in Kaneki’s over the top facial expressions and constant anguished screaming.

All that aside, if you’re jonesing for some horror-tinged urban fantasy this might scratch your itch. There’s already heavy implications of Ghoul politics and in-fighting, and it is interesting to see the central dilemma that feels like it should be posed more often by vampire fiction but isn’t really in practice- what if you were suddenly forced to kill others to survive?- being addressed front and center. Although given that Kaneki is only half Ghoul and the scenes in the trailer of him salivating wildly while fighting, I have a feeling the show is going to cop out and let him subsist on Ghoul flesh, sidestepping the issue.

sailor-moon-crystal Sailor Moon Crystal

Fighting evil by moonlight

winning love by daylight

Never running from a real fight!

She is the one named Sailor Moon! ~♪

Sailor Moon is a big nostalgic childhood show for a whole generation of US and European anime fans, but I only ever saw a few snippets of it when it was airing because we didn’t have the channel it was on. So, I’m coming at this remake/reboot/rewhatever with no nostalgia goggles or expectations at all.

As far as I can tell the outline of the plot remains basically the same as in the older series from the 90s- Usagi Tsukino is a ditzy, clumsy crybaby as all shoujo heroines were apparently required to be back then. One day she discovers a talking black cat who grants her the power to turn into an evil-busting school-uniform wearing heroine, just like the mysterious vigilante Sailor V!

That’s…. more or less all there is to it. I don’t know why it comes as such a surprise that Sailor Moon feels like something made for little kids. Maybe it’s because for so long the only people I’ve heard talking about the series have been in their 20s and 30s. In any case, this is indeed a show made firmly for little kids: the plot is simplistic, the characters are barely outlines and the whole thing is sumptuously cheesy.

It’s also kind of like looking at a fossil that’s been dug up and covered in a thick coating of poster paint. The character designs and overall visual design of the show is right out of the era of the original manga run, all huge sparkling eyes and enormous volumes of wispy hair, but now everyone is bright and candy-coated and awash in cheap digital animation. In fact the entire look of the show is cheap, which is surprising given its historical pedigree. A scene right at the beginning with Usagi falling down some stairs is laughably poor, and even the opening sequence uses crude poser-esque CG models in a few scenes.

I don’t really have anything else to say about Sailor Moon Crystal. If you’ve never seen it before it’s just a kind of cheap-looking kids show, identical to the masses of cheap kids shows that come out every year and get largely ignored by anglophone anime fans. If you loved Sailor Moon in your formative anime watching years the new visual style might be too jarring, or maybe your appreciation of the characters and story will shine through anyway.

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Sword Art Online II

The original Sward Ort Online was a poorly written, misogynistic mess that somehow became popular. It was about an online game, that involved swords and the art of using them. More specifically, it told the story of 10,000 players of a new full-immersion MMO who get locked into the game and can only escape by reaching the highest level of the tower-like world. If they died in the game, they died in real life, their brains microwaved by the sensory helmets used as part of the technology.

And then they got out of that game and played another game, only without all of that high-stakes brain microwaving business. It involved fairies.

This sequel series takes place a year later. For some reason people are still making VRMMOs even though a bunch of people died last time around. The episode opens inside Gun Gale Online, a cyberpunk-flavoured gun MMO, where two famous players sit around talking about character classes and stats. This goes on for two minutes but feels like roughly an hour. Luckily a dude in a skull mask named “Death Gun” (really) gets up and shoots one of the players through an in-game monitor using his death-dealing gun, which is also called Death Gun. This causes his victim to keel over dead of a heart attack in real life.

Meanwhile, in the real world! Bland couple Kirito and Asuna from the first series are out being a bland couple when Kirito receives something of a job offer: infiltrate Gun Gale Online and try and make contact with Death Gun to see what his deal is.

There are vague hints of mildly interesting elements at play here. Kirito and Asuna are wearing clothes reminiscent of their Sword Art Online garb, suggesting that they haven’t moved past their experiences in the game as easily as they think, and judging from the promotional art Kirito is going to be playing as a female avatar in Gan Gule Online so, like, yeah. Possibly that might be interesting? Except not really because I don’t care about these characters and this episode moves at an utterly glacial pace. Kirito and Asuna spend ages wandering around a park, and the stilted expository writing from the opening minutes pervades throughout.

“After all, I was the first person to visit you in the hospital when you woke up!”

He’s right, he was the first person to visit me…. 

*flashback*

GGO itself seems marginally more interesting, particularly the sniper character who seems like she’s going to be yet another love interest for Kirito (more or less every woman in the previous series threw themselves at him).

Also: “GGO is the only VRMMO that lets you exchange real-world money for in-game coins”

This is clearly taking place in a complete fantasy world.

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Aldnoah Zero

It’s alt-history 2014! Unlike most alt-histories this one doesn’t involve Nazis or airships. Instead it has a Mars-Earth hypergate discovered on the moon during the space race. Also, there are people living on Mars. Not aliens; humans who left Earth and built a civilization there with ancient alien technology and who have hilarious names like Asseylum Vers Allusia and Slaine Troyard.

Once contact is made war inevitably breaks out between the good people of Earth and the aristrocratic quasi-feudal Vers Empire, culminating in an event in 1999 called Heaven’s Fall- the destruction of the hypergate and half of the moon. Tensions have been simmering ever since, with Earth teenagers trained in mecha combat in preparation for an inevitable return to war and the Vers knights eager to get fighting. Into this tumultuous situation steps Princess Asseylum on a peace mission that quickly turns sour when she is apparently assassinated (she has more prominent billing on the series artwork than the main character so there’s a 99.9% chance she’s still alive). This proves to be the Franz Ferdinand moment for the waiting Vers knights, giving them the perfect excuse to launch an attack, and by the end of the episode the two sides appear to be on the brink of all-out war.

So I had a kind of hilariously shallow reason for wanting to watch Aldnoah Zero: the character designs are being done by Takako Shimura, the author of Wandering Son which just happens to be one of my personal all time favourites. She seems like an utterly quixotic choice to do character designs for a mecha series so I was also hoping this indicated that Aldnoah might do something a little interesting or off the beaten path with its formula. Turns out it did!

The setup sounds like absolutely nothing special if you’re familiar with mecha shows. Earth/space empire conflicts, teenage heroes, princesses and a S U D D E N  A T T A C K have been staples of the genre since the original Gundam, and probably earlier. Of course shit’s going to go down on the way to school for our hero, of course he’s going to end up in the pilot seat of a giant robot.

Except not quite. Yes, the plot is very obviously going in that direction, but this first episode at least seems more interested in the political maneuvering between Earth and Mars, with the most pressing concern being figuring out who organized the assassination attempt on the Princess rather than blowing up robots. The show seems to be trying to create a world where an individual soldier is only a small player in a much larger game, no matter how experimental their mecha or how hot-blooded their burning shounen passion.

Everything about Aldnoah Zero suggests that the creative staff aren’t content to just regurgitate mecha tropes even as the show is undoubtedly forged in that well-worn crucible. The dialogue is interesting and well-written, both Earth and the Vers empire culture feel belivable but distinct, and there’s an overall feeling that the show is trying to ground its story more in reality. Teenagers being trained to fight with giant robots is an age-old cliche, but it’s interesting here how the cynical, alcoholic teacher in charge of their combat drills blandly states that the whole thing is a waste of time and they’re going to get stomped into oblivion if Mars ever comes knocking.

Add in nice visuals, atmospheric music and some gorgeous direction and I think we have this season’s winner. The only real flaw I can find in Aldnoah is, surprisingly, the protagonist. I think the writers were going for cool-headed and logical, but they arrived straight at dull and bland. Unless there’s some sort of plot reason for his nigh-emotionless state throughout the entire episode (kid barely even reacts to a missile attack) I can’t imagine myself giving a damn about him.

(Also while I’m complaining, I do find it questionable that all of the Earth-derived Martians and all of the international refugees/immigrants living in Japan are white)

terror-in-tokyo

Terror In Resonance

It’s anime Tokyo again! This version of anime Tokyo is a lot more down to Earth. It includes such features as a lonely, bullied girl named Lisa and the two weird transfer students who just moved into her class, who refer to each other as Nine and Twelve and decide to blow up a building in Shinjuku. They manage to pull this off despite openly announcing their plot on Youtube, and Lisa ends up getting caught in the incident. Twelve gives her a choice: join them as an accomplice to terror (TERROR IN RESONANCE) or die. She obviously chooses the former.

So at the moment this is a whole lot of What The Fuck. Nine and Twelve clearly have some sort of mysterious and possibly sci-fi related background, and I’m just waiting for the explanation behind their junior terrorist antics that we’re presumably going to get. That just leaves Lisa as the sole emotional hook for the show, and she’s an admittedly effective one even if the anxious, bullied girl is kind of a cheap ploy to grab audience sympathy.

At least it looks and sounds great. Director Shinichiro Watanabe (of Cowboy Bebop fame) and composer Yoko Kanno (also of Cowboy Bebop fame, along with a whole lot else) deliver stylish, well-animated visuals and a cool soundtrack to go with all the post-9/11 security paranoia (check out the totally subtle visual cues in that header image). The show seems to be making some sort of point with all of this, and I worry that it’s not going to do it with any great finesse- an opening scene where Nine and Twelve rob a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant with absurd ease has lots of pointed shots of lazy security guards stuffing donuts into their mouths.

In any case, I’m definitely interested enough to keep watching. Terror In Resonance takes the number two spot this season behind Aldnoah Zero.

when-marnie-was-there-poster

Bonus movie preview: When Marnie Was There

So I haven’t actually seen this yet, but Studio Ghibli’s next movie happens to be coming out in a few days. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this on the blog, but I’m a pretty huge fan of Ghibli’s output and a new film from them is always worth getting excited about unless it’s Earthsea.

This one doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere near the level of buzz that I’d expect- I actually went on to a Ghibli forum to see how hyped the super-fans are about it and a lot of them had never even heard of the movie and had no idea it was coming out in less than a week. That might be because when a lot of people say they like “Ghibli” movies what they actually mean is that they like Hayao Miyazaki movies, and after his retirement anything else the studio puts out might be doomed to obscurity. That might go for Japan as well actually, trailers for this thing only started coming out last week and as of this post the only one I can find online is low-quality and plastered with TV channel overlays.

But I’m quite looking forward to When Marnie Was In A Movie With A Slightly Awkward Title. It’s being directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who did 2010’s good but not particularly memorable Arrietty and is based on a 1967 children’s novel that Miyazaki is apparently quite a fan of. Dude still has a lot of influence even from beyond the grave (the retirement grave). Synopses of the novel appear to more or less summarize the entire story, but the short version is that it’s about a lonely girl who meets another girl, who is a ghost. Whimsical and poignant antics presumably ensue in which the protagonist learns to open up and make friends. I’m not entirely sure because information and buzz on the movie seems to be extremely thin on the ground, even on hardcore anime news sties. For more information let’s take a look at this hilariously mangled Google Translate text from the Japanese website:

Are you sure of who exactly is Marnie. The story of another hidden in the earth mansion wet. And, the truth of the impression that Anna has arrived, and what was on earth. Girl, Anna of one person that you lose sight of yourself, had closed the heart. The nature of Hokkaido, was healing the soul of Anna It was love of Marnie. When the memories of summer girl two men tied, Anna will be wrapped in an unexpected love “whole”. Studio Ghibli summer of 2014 is delivered to Japan in the story of a girl who was found in the tip of Sabishi-sa, an irreplaceable treasure. That allows you to plow large.

Oh, Google. You try so hard.

Western audiences probably won’t get a chance to plow large for quite some time. Non-Miyazaki Ghibli films don’t tend to get aired outside festivals and arthouse cinemas in English speaking countries, and the studio’s quieter, more down to earth output sometimes gets overlooked entirely (case in point Only Yesterday, which Disney has for some reason never released in the US).

In any case, if the two heroines doing the “doomed anime romance” pose up there on the poster is any indication the movie will be super poignant and bittersweet and since I’m a huge sucker for that shit I’m definitely on board.

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9 thoughts on “Summer 2014 Anime

  1. Nerem

    I think Marnie didn’t have a lot of hype because Ghibli really kept a low profile with it. From what I hear, it’s a really good adaptation. Also, the theme song (Fine On The Outside) pretty much sums it up.

    As far as I can tell, most everyone assumed it would be a straight adaptation of the book, but it’s not so much. It cuts out the entire last half of the book (which was the ‘she uses her friendship skills she got from Marnie to make friends with a new family’) and instead focuses entirely on Anna’s intense friendship and ‘pure love’ (actual words that people working on the film described it as) with Marnie.

    Reply
    1. ronanwills Post author

      That’s good to hear, because I’m interested in the central relationship but I was kind of dreading the “and this is how she learned and grew and shit” part of the story.

      Reply
  2. q____q

    I can recommend Mushishi (both beasons). It’s a very strange and meditative but sadly there are almost no female characters (at least not many recurring ones) but on the positive side also no fanservice whatsoever. Also Railgun/S (which has one fanservice episode and not much else – not that it hasn’t other problems, though).

    +1 for Fam the Silver Wing.

    Your last remark on Aldnoah Zero is what is always bugging me with Attack on Titan too (not much fanservice there either): The only people that survive the Titan apocalypse are Japanese and (white) European? Seriously? All darker skinned humans died because they … ?

    I’m still waiting for the last two Ghibli movies (Princess Kaguya(?) and The Wind Rises) though I’ve heard that the latter is pretty problematic (not much of a surprise when the main character is an inventor of warplanes). I’m really looking forward to the TV adaption of Ronia, too.

    Reply
  3. Signatus

    Anime mysoginistic? No, really? XD
    I can’t remember a single anime that doesn’t objectivizes women or right on ridicules them. It has been one of the main reasons I have stopped watching anime altogether with a couple of exceptions, like Fullmetal Alchemist. Even Hellsing was repulsive to all the protagonism the main female character’s boobs receive.

    Anyways, as for Sailor Moon, I did watch it when I was a little girl and remember liking it. I was 6 at the time so… most likely I would hate it now due to how childish it is. 😛

    Reply
    1. ronanwills Post author

      I’ve come across plenty (well, some) anime that I thought were entirely non -misogynistic but they tend to be either studio ghibli movies or very slow-moving niche stuff that really doesn’t appeal to everyone and so has been understandably overlooked. When it comes to the mainstream it’s a whole lot of buxom sex fiends who molest the bland self-insert lead (but in kind of a sexy way), buxom blushing virgins, fetishized cute schoolgirls and damsels (and let’s just not even touch the whole lolicon thing).

      Reply
      1. Signatus

        Exactly. I did like Spirited Away quiet a lot, and the last one I’ve seen, Ookami Kodomo No Ame to Yuki (or something like that), was okeyish too, but mainstream is mostly like you described. The only one I remember now that is not as exagerated would be Wolf’s Rain, and yet it does represent the four galliard male wolves saving the damsel in distress (the Moon Flower or whatever, been a few years since I saw i). Apparently such a powerful entity can’t save herself.

        Reply
    2. Alice

      Try Fam the Silver Wing. It’s a sequel to a pretty average anime but is IMO a thousand times better. The original series had every female character swooning over the bland and annoying male protag. The sequel? Huge cast of female characters, none of whom are sexualised or have any interest in men. There’s an all female fighter squadron, a female pirate captain, an empress, and the main protagonists are a princess, an ace pilot, and her genius navigator – all female. It’s probably my favourite anime of all time.

      Reply

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