Miscellaneous I

… mostly anime


The envelope, please

So Paprika wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Big deal. An Academy Award means almost as much as a Nobel Peace Prize, and it is more of an honor for a worthy candidate not to be nominated. The American Anime Awards are a joke. However, excellence, or at least egregiousness, deserves to be recognized, so I am instituting the annual Beware the Kawaii Awards. Each winner will receive an “Ichigo,” an imaginary half-size statuette of this weblog’s mascot, Hina Ichigo. (A certain deserving few will receive life-size Suiseiseki action figures that pelt the recipients with lead-filled acorns.) Shows released in America or fansubbed at least partially in 2006 are eligible.

The 2006 winners
Best alien: Yuki Nagato, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Best bunny girl: Hell’s Bunny, Muteki Kanban Musume
Best gothic lolita android: August, Coyote Ragtime Show
Best Haruhi: Haruhi Fujioka, Ouran High School Host Club
Best idiot: Tamaki Suou, Ouran High School Host Club
Prettiest grim reaper: Momo, Shinigami no Ballad
Goddess of the year: Haruhi Suzumiya, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Best blue hair: Binchou-tan, Binchou-tan
Cutest ears: Eruruu and Aruruu, Utawarerumono (Also cutest tails)
Best opening song: “Kouya Ruten,” Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto
Best ending song: “Mercury Go,” Pumpkin Scissors
Best background music: (tie) Binchou-tan and Saiunkoku Monogatari
Lamest opening: Mushishi
Best choreography: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, ending
Best costume design: Saiunkoku Monogatari
Best flightsuits: Simoun (from Frederick’s of NeoTokyo)
Prettiest mecha: Simoun (also least plausible)
Ugliest vase: Ouran High School Host Club, episode one
Word of the year: “uguu,” Kanon
Best sneeze: Kamichu!, episode one
Best fight: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, episode ten (broadcast order)
Best “egads!” moment: Ouran High School Host Club, episode ten
Stupidest fanservice: Kamichu!, episode seven
Most implausible premise: Otome wa Boku ni Koisheteru
Most deserving of a good dub: Binchou-tan
Best show that should have been loathsome but wasn’t: Ouran High School Host Club
Best action series: Hikaru no Go
Worst disappointment: Galaxy Angel Rune
Fansub project most deserving of completion: (tie) Dirty Pair TV and Ribon no Kishi
Best movie I haven’t yet seen: Paprika
Best movie I haven’t yet seen that might never be released in America: Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo
Deal of the year: The complete Cardcaptor Sakura for $70 at The Anime Corner Store
Stupidest thing intelligent people did: watch all of Dokuru-chan
Stupidest trend: boys being girls

Special awards
Not anime but worthy of recognition:
Best cosplay: Darth Kitty
Best convention reporting: Skribbl of Story Boredom (from June 23 to July 19)


I have a sense that I’ve skimmed off the best of anime already. In view as I write this are Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei, Cardcaptor Sakura, Noir, Paranoia Agent, Crest/Banner of the Stars and Miyazaki. Where do I go from here? Mostly these days I’m filling up gaps in my collection and keeping track of what’s current. Although I expect that I will always have some interest in anime, it may be time to move on to the next obsession.


Time travel

So they can send a package into the future:

But can the USPS deliver it on time?

Update: the package arrived this morning. I’m impressed: it is now possible to send objects over two months into the future and then call them back to the present.

The package contained the second batch of Geneon titles that I had ordered from RightStuf. Every single item in it was either “Reserved For Your Order” or “On Order From Manufacturer” at some point, but everything did eventually turn up. Most of what I ordered this time were gifts or the first discs of various series that I’m curious about. One of the latter is Steven’s current enthusiasm.

(Note: this was originally posted in the fall of 2006, several months before December.)


The laws of physics on Daikuuriku, where Simoun takes place, are a different than they are on Earth. The “simoun” of the title is an aircraft composed primarily of two large “helical motors,” with two seats, a large green gemstone and some fairing attached. There’s nothing resembling an airfoil, any obvious source of propulsion, or any device corresponding to the flaps and rudders of an airplane, yet these things zoom all over the place. It must be magic. The people who fly them don’t really understand them, either. Ages ago, there was an advanced civilization on the planet that eventually collapsed. The helical motors are relics of that civilization.

The simouns are the primary aircraft of the theocratic nation Simulacrum, and flying them is considered to be a form of prayer. They can only be flown by pairs of “sibyllae,” young women who have not yet chosen a permament sex.

Magic doesn’t explain how the fighter aircraft of the attacking Argentum nation stay aloft, though. Those should plummet straight down all the way to the ground when released from their parent dirigibles, but they seem to be almost as airworthy as the simouns.

Biology is also a bit different. Everyone is born female. Normally, when a young Simulacrum citizen turns seventeen, she makes a pilgrimage to a spring in a certain grotto, where she determines whether she will remain female or become male. Because of the war with Argentum, sibyllae can delay selecting their final sex, but once they do enter the waters of the spring, they can no longer fly the simouns. I am at a loss to explain how this could arise through evolutionary processes.

Warfare is different, as well. The sibyllae in their simouns don’t directly attack the enemy. Instead, they weave patterns in the sky call “ri maajon.” Correctly done, this can unleash tremendous energy. Argentum soldiers make do with guns and explosives.

I’m not sure where Simoun is going yet. I’ve seen the first four episodes. They serve primarily to sketch the peculiar world in which the story is set and to introduce the characters. The principals are likely to be Neviril, an outstandingly skillful, introverted sibylla, and Aaeru, a cocky, irresponsible pilot who wants to fly with Neviril.

I’ve suspended a lot of disbelief to get as far as I have, and if the show degenerates into a wartime angstfest, I will not be happy. Nor will I be happy if it becomes the religion-versus-technology battle that the Simulacrum/Argentum opposition threatens. I will be even less happy if the show becomes a celebration of yuri. I hope, instead, that the writers reveal more about the history of Daikuuriku and bring the war to a conclusion that doesn’t involve immense destruction. I’m curious to see if they can come up with an explanation of the helical motor that isn’t mere hand-waving (not very likely).

No matter where you go in the universe, there will always be some version of the seifuku.

Thus far I’ve rather enjoyed Simoun, despite the weird science and clichéd characters. Part of it is the sheer complexity of the show’s universe; it may not be a logical world, but it is a complicated one. Part of it is just that it is pleasant to look at.

One of the fansub groups emphatically states that Simoun is not hentai, and they’re right. Although, given the premises, romances between girls are inevitable, thus far there has been nothing more titillating than an occasional kiss and mention of romance.

No two sibyllae wear the same style flight suit.

Here’s the Wikipedia article on Simoun, which goes over the background in great detail without serious spoilers (I don’t recommend looking at it until after you’ve watched an episode or two, and don’t read beyond “Background”).


Presenting Miss August

The key to enjoying the Coyote Ragtime Show is to not think too much about it. If you pause to analyze the details, it falls apart. For instance, the planet on which the series opens is infested with bugs. Big bugs, something like millipedes as long as a football field. They can leap into the air and then instantly dive underground. And I thought the sandworms of Arrakis were implausible.

Fortunately, the story moves so fast that you don’t realize how little sense it makes until after it’s over. I’ve seen two episodes, and thus far it’s fun, if excessively bloody. I’m pleased to note that the central character is not some damned bishounen or a Spike Spiegel clone, but rather a solidly-built, grey-haired, middle-aged outlaw. Mister, as he is called, is the guardian, sorta, of Franca, except when he’s in jail for traffic violations. Franca has a pendant from her late father that is the key to a treasure. The treasure is on a planet that is scheduled to be destroyed in a week. The Criminal Guild is interested in Mister, Franca and the pendant, as is Angelica, an investigator with serious munchies (she ought to gain about twenty pounds by the end of the twelve-episode series). Also involved are Madame Marciano’s Twelve Sisters, a dozen gothic lolita androids (or robots), mostly very cute and all very lethal.

One minor disappointment: there’s no Scott Joplin. (There wasn’t any Charlie Parker in as much as I saw of Cowboy Bebop, either.)

I could write more and, say, compare/contrast Angelica’s assistant Chelsea with Mihoshi, or review Franca’s harmonica playing, but there’s no real point. This is mere entertainment, and as such it’s not bad. I’ll probably continue to follow this series unless it turns really stupid.


Perhaps the most discouraging feature of the anime festival this past weekend was the prevalence of Narutards. Every time I turned around, there was yet another kid in an ugly costume and a headband with a metal plate. Just how bad is Naruto? A friend recently had occasion to find out. She reports:

The other day G asked if he could watch Naruto, because his best friend J likes it. … So D and I watched an episode with him. It was *all* violence — the entire show was about a one-on-one battle in which one combatant essentially beats another practically to the point of death (that was unresolved at the end), in a training match with teachers observing. Lots of dramatic shots of blood dripping out of the corners of mouths. The nod to character development consisted of some flashbacks in which the loser thought about *other* training battles, and the observers’ reactions (including admiration for the loser’s perseverence mixed with criticism for her lack of ability). D and I couldn’t help but make a lot of snide comments about how this all would work in real life. At one point, when the winner chided the loser about her inability to hold up her family honor, D explained this was Japanese trash-talking. Even G seemed pretty ill by the end of it, after spending the first half strenuously (and then by degrees less strenuously) insisting that this must be a fluke, after all, J likes the show…


One series I won’t be downloading is Flag. Here’s the synopsis:

‘.In 20xx, a civil war broke out in a small country in Asia is getting hard in spite of dispatch of UN forces. But a picture taken by accident in the battle field accelerates the peace process. It is a picture of a flag. Although they are enemies, they cooperate together to fly it in a sanctuary, and the flag becomes the symbol of the peace. However, just before the peace agreement is achieved, the flag is robbed by an armed extremist group in order to obstruct the truce. UN decides to send SDC (Special Development Command) and a cameraman to record their activities. The cameraman is Shirasu Saeko. She is the cameraman who took the picture of the flag. At first they think the mission is easy because they wear latest armed suits, HAVWC(High Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier), but they gets in trouble by unexpected attacks. .’

Mention of the United Nations doesn’t exactly warm the cockles of my chilly heart, and I’m incorrigibly cynical about any “peace process.” Mechas are strike three.


In Saiunkoku Monogatari, the spirited, educated but impoverished Shuurei accepts 500 gold pieces to be the consort of the emperor of a fictional version of medieval China. Ryuuki, the young emperor, has been shirking his duty. Apparently, he’s irresponsible and ignorant, and probably also homosexual. The senior court officials hope that Shuurei can rehabilitate him before disaster ensues. By the end of the third episode, it’s clear that Ryuuki isn’t as quite as dumb as he seems, and perhaps not entirely gay, either.

I don’t think that there is likely to be any real in-depth consideration of the challenges of governing an empire. Here’s the most politically sophisticated discussion so far:

Seiran: Since the country hasn’t fully stabilized, we cannot hope for much tax revenue
Ryuuki: But without money there’s nothing the country can do. I wondered if perhaps making the taxes more severe would …
Shuurei: That’s no good! What will squeezing the people even more accomplish? We have to think of a way to bring prosperity to the people. If we do that, then even if we collect taxes at the same rate, the revenues will increase.
Ryuuki: Hmm.
Seiran: Certainly, if we can turn around the economy then revenues will increase. It’s good to be able to think ten or twenty years ahead.

Instead, I expect that the remaining 36 episodes will focus more on court intrigues, treachery, assassination attempts, bromides and whether Ryuuki really does prefer guys. Nevertheless, I might continue watching it, despite all the bishies. One reason is Houko Kuwashima, who makes Goody Two-Shoes Shuurei tolerable. Another reason is the costuming. If I could find suitable willing victims, it could be interesting to see how closely I could approximate the Chinese court robes. (Unfortunately, most American anime fans seem to be overweight adolescents, and I am myself no longer young and skinny.) But the most important reason is the background music. Much of it is sprightly woodwind chamber music, but there is also quite a bit of yangqin featured. As a hammered dulcimer player, for me that is sufficient reason to keep watching and listening. Here’s a short scene with the yangqin. (Shuurei gives Ryuuki a piece of embroidery. It’s the first gift he’s ever received.) Even if I don’t follow the series to the end, I’ll keep an eye out for the soundtrack.


Behind the lenses

While there isn’t really a masculine counterpart to the meganekko, it occurs to me that there is a distinct subset of guys with glasses possibly worth adding to the list of anime types. The three pictured here, “Icchan” from Angelic Layer, Eriol from Cardcaptor Sakura and Kyouya from Ouran High School Host Club, have several characteristics in common. All are highly intelligent and know more than they let on. All three have complex agendas. They can be manipulative. It’s not always clear whether they mean well or not. Their smiles can be scary.

There’s a lot of anime that I haven’t seen (most everything, in fact). Are there enough examples in other series to justify defining the type? If so, is there a nifty Japanese term for it? (Update: “scary glasses.”)


Family life

Karin, center, is a rarity in anime. She does indeed have a “complete” family: father, mother, big brother, little sister. (They’re all vampires, but that’s another matter.) Looking over the series in the shelves near my computer, I see only three other titles in which father, mother and child all live together under the same roof, Kamichu!, Urusei Yatsura and Birdy the Mighty. Usually in anime one parent is deceased or absent, and often both. Here’s a survey of the series on my shelves in which we learn about the principal characters’ families:

All-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku: Ryunosuke’s parents are acrimoniously divorced.
Angelic Layer: Misaki’s mother essentially abandoned her. There’s no mention of Misaki’s father.
Binchou-tan: Bin once lived with her grandmother but now lives alone; Chiku-tan and her sister live with their grandfather; Ren-tan lives with her grandfather; Kunugu-tan lives in a mansion with many servants but no family. The only parent seen (through episode seven) is Aloe-tan’s mother.
Cardcaptor Sakura: Sakura’s mother died when Sakura was very young.
Crest of the Stars: Jinto loses his parents when he is young. The identity of Lafiel’s mother (so to speak) is a plot point.
Elf Princess Rane: Go’s parents are both out of the country (his mother does leave a message on his answering machine); Mari’s father is prominent in the story but there is no mention of her mother.
Grrl Power!: Umi, Sora and Ao live alone and must support themselves.
Jubei-Chan: Jiyu’s mother died when Jiyu was young.
Keroro Gunsou: Natsumi and Fuyuki live with their mother, but there has been no mention of their father so far.
Kino’s Journey: Kino leaves home at an early age.
Mushishi: Ginko lost his mother, and much else, when he was young. There’s no mention of his father.
Noir: Mireille lost her parents early in her life. She may have been more fortunate than Kirika.
Rozen Maiden: Jun and Nori’s parents are out of the country for the duration of both seasons.
Serial Experiments Lain: Lain does have a father, mother and sister at the beginning of the series, but nothing is as it seems.
Sugar, a Tiny Snow Fairy: Saga’s mother died when Saga was young; I don’t recall any mention of Saga’s father.
Tenchi Muyo!: Tenchi’s mother died when he was young.
Utawarerumono: Eruruu and Aruruu’s father died before the start of the story; I don’t recall any mention of their mother.

I’ve not come across any good explanation why intact families are so rare. One possibiity I’ve seen advanced is that a missing parent means one less character to animate. A more plausible one is that problem families are more likely to generate interesting stories. Still, even if you count Rozen Maiden and Elf Princess Rane as series with complete families, there are nevertheless three times as many with missing parents.

Update: there’s further discussion of this topic at Chizumatic and Ambient Irony.


Jun is a hikikomori. He never leaves his house and spends nearly all his time in his room ordering junk on the internet, which he returns before payment is due. The only person he ever sees is his sister Nori, whom he treats like a servant. One day a case mysteriously appears in his room; inside the case is a beautifully-crafted doll wearing a red dress. Jun winds her up, and she comes to life. Shinku, the doll, slaps Jun and informs him that he is her servant. Other dolls subsequently arrive, such as the mischievous, sarcastic Suiseiseki and the infantile Hinaichigo. And then there’s the psychopathic Suigintou. Jun, who had dropped out of the society of humans, now must adapt to the society of eccentric, demanding dolls.

Rozen Maiden tells two parallel stories. One is the account of Jun’s gradual rehabilitation through life with Shinku. By the end of the twelve episodes he’s much healthier psychologically, though he can still be an obnoxious twit. The other is the story of the “Alice game” involving the dolls. The winner of the game supposedly becomes a real girl, and Suigintou means to win, no matter what.
In its way, Rozen Maiden is a sort of benign vampire story. Jun is Shinku’s “medium,” from whom she draws her power. After Shinku’s magical battles, Jun is drained, but overall he benefits from their connection. (Other mediums are not always as lucky, and there are perils for the dolls, too.)
Rozen Maiden has a stong following in America, and I expect that it will be licensed soon. It will be worth a rental, though it probably won’t go on my “buy” list. It’s not for children; although there is nothing offensive (other than the misuse of the term “rosa mystica” — I wish the writers had done a little research before appropriating the phrase), there is quite a bit of fantasy violence, and there are visits to the dreams of some troubled individuals.


$20,000,000 worth of crap

From Cartoon Brew this morning:

This Reuters article offers some background on the film and says that HOODWINKED’s budget was $15-20 million. To put that into perspective, the Weinsteins could have produced two amazing animated films for $20mil — THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE and MIND GAME — with spare change left over. The reason we don’t see more films like BELLEVILLE and MIND GAME is not that they cost too much or that there aren’t enough talented animation directors who can create such films; it’s that Hollywood’s live-action establishment doesn’t understand (and remains willfully ignorant about) the animated art form. As long as these people continue to call the shots, the great possibilities of feature animation will remain untapped, and the development of the art form painfully stunted. And we’ll continue to see directors like Zemeckis blow fortunes on “uncanny valley” quasi-animated films like POLAR EXPRESS, studios spend tens of millions to produce Saturday morning-quality fare like CURIOUS GEORGE, and producers like the Weinsteins invest in torturously bad projects like HOODWINKED.


The sounds of silence

Turner Classic Movies will broadcast a number of Studio Ghibli productions in January. Banshee has thoughtfully posted the schedule. (I belleve that she posts from Ohio; show times may vary in other parts of the country.) The Miyazaki movies are all at least very good. Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away and perhaps My Neighbor Totoro are part of basic cultural literacy; if you haven’t watched them, you’re not fully civilized. The series also includes films by the other Ghibli auteur, Isao Takahata, who is at the top of my list for next year’s investigations.

Banshee recommends that you watch them in Japanese with subtitles rather than in English:

So why watch the Japanese version?

Well, obviously the original voice cast is closer to the original intent. But that’s not the real issue. The silences are.

Although some dubs are just fine, dub producers have a tendency to want to fill silent or quiet moments with louder music or new songs or voice-over dialogue. This is unfortunate, because a good deal of the beauty and thoughtfulness of Japanese art and culture is in the spaces it leaves and the things it doesn’t say. Miyazaki and his compadres at Ghibli use such devices often; so their movies have tended to suffer from the American prejudice against “dead air”.

For example, Kiki’s Delivery Service (not being shown) featured a witch girl flying on her broomstick, traveling alone for the first time. In the original version, Miyazaki made much of the sound of flight — of the wind rushing past, and the sounds of the natural world around her. At one point, the silence got too much for her, so Kiki turned on one of those little transistor radios and listened to a defiant little Japanese pop song from the early sixties, complete with realistic static and tinny sound.

In the American version, the wind was replaced with loud soundtrack, and the song with a new sugary, overdidactic, self-esteem song by an American songwriter who can write better than this. Transistor sound and loneliness was not even attempted. The point of the whole scene was lost.


The sky is falling at Disney, demonstrating once again that the most advanced technology available is worthless if the script is lousy. (Via Cartoon Brew.)

The future of animation is not Iran. (Via Relapsed Catholic.)

There evidentally isn’t much hope for American animation, either. I followed Boondocks for a few weeks a couple of years ago, and found it witless and humorless.

No fair.