Before anime

My Crunchyroll subscription lapsed a month ago. I’m pretty much done with anime, though I’ll probably always retain some interest. Possibly someone might like to read about my experiences and thoughts, so I’ll write a few summary posts, starting with some pre-history.

I quit watching television when I realized that I could accurately predict the events of an action/adventure/spy show from the first five minutes. This was ‘way back in prehistoric times, when there were only three channels.1 The rest of the family remained addicts, and there was usually a television on in the house at all waking hours and halfway through the night.2 I typically spent my evenings alone in my room, reading, while my parents sat in front of the television.

Movies were a novelty in the small city where I spent the largest portion of my childhood. There was one theater, with just one screen, and one drive-in. You had little choice in what to watch. Consequently, I saw few movies when I was young, and those were mostly thrillers at the drive-in, when my parents tossed me in the back of the car expecting me to sleep while they watched. I had insomnia even then, but I usually found the films more annoying than interesting. (I had nightmares about crop-dusting airplanes after they saw North by Northwest.) Later on in other places we lived, there were multiple theaters available, often with several screens. Unfortunately, movie-going was a family activity, and by then I had had enough of family. With a few exceptions (the Marx Brothers, Ealing Studios comedies, Ray Harryhausen), I never learned to like movies much.

There were a couple of items that presaged my interest in Japanese animation.

First were Saturday morning cartoons. Back in ancient times when I still watched television, my friends and I woke up at dawn on Saturdays and turned the television on, even though at that hour stations just broadcast test patterns, so that we would not miss anything once the programs started. Eventually our parents would wake up and throw us out of the house, but not before we had watched several hours of animation.

Cartoons fell into three classes. The least interesting were the innumerable Hanna-Barbera productions and similar. Yogi Bear, Quick-Draw McGraw, Top Cat, etc., they were all just mere entertainment: formulaic, cheap-looking and bland. They were better than a test pattern, but not by much.

Vastly better were the old Warner Brothers cartoons. These were superior in every respect to HB productions: voice acting, character design, art, animation, music, and particularly the writing. Bugs Bunny was far more vivid and alive than Yogi Bear could ever be. Bugs made me a Raymond Scott fan, too, though I didn’t know that at the time.

The best were the Jay Ward productions. Rocky and Bullwinkle looked even cheaper than Yogi Bear, but it didn’t matter. When the scripts were good, they were brilliant, and they were good more often than not.3 George of the Jungle was consistently good; Hoppity Hooper was downright trippy, as I recall (it’s hard to find; the episodes I’ve unearthed are decidedly eccentric, but I need to see more.) Although the shows were presented as kids’ entertainment, they were written for adults rather than dumbed down for dull children. Bullwinkle is one of the three great comic characters of the 20th century, along with Groucho Marx and Ignatius Reilly.

The other harbinger was Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke. This was the first animated Japanese movie to get a proper release in America, under the title Magic Boy. It turned up one Saturday afternoon at the kids’ matinee, and it blew away all the Disney movies I had ever seen. I thought it was the greatest movie ever made. I later saw Forbidden Planet, and that was the greatest movie ever made, and I eventually forgot Magic Boy.

Some years back, I tracked down a fansub of the movie. By every objective criterion it’s inferior to Disney products. But it had wildness and strangeness absent from its carefully-polished occidental counterparts, and it excited my imagination as no Disney movie ever had.

Books and music took the place of movies and television for me.

Half a lifetime later, I read a news article about a new children’s show being imported from Japan. It had something to do with girls who identified with the planets of the solar system and wore sailor suits. It sounded silly, but I was curious.

Several years after that, I read a review of an animated movie called Perfect Blue. It seemed worth seeing. Too bad it would never come to Wichita. Princess Mononoke looked interesting, too, but it also was unlikely ever to be shown here.

Not quite 20 years ago, a bodhran-playing friend turned out to have a DVD of Princess Mononoke. I asked to borrow it.

Update: I was annoyed to find that recent reissues of Rocky and Bullwinkle on DVD substituted different music for most of the openings and endings. Fortunately, you can find the correct music here. Pianists looking to enlarge their repertoire might consider assembling the incidental music to Dudley Do-Right into “silent movie” suite.

***

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the next installment.

Cue the dancing chibis

I wrote this seven years ago:

Joshiraku — Nobody is ever likely to license this. Five girls, practitioners of a peculiar form of Japanese comedy, sitting in a dressing room talking about random things is unlikely to strike most Americans as comedy gold, but Joshiraku was probably the funniest show of the year. Much of Koji Kumeta’s wit will fly over the head of English speakers who don’t have a detailed knowledge of Japanese culture, but enough does survive translation to make Joshiraku worth watching. It helps that the girls all have well-defined, idiosyncratic personalities. Download an episode to see if it appeals to you, and also to see the opening and ending. Both are engagingly lively, and the latter is one of the best of the year. It features dancing chibis.

Let’s start by ripping the fourth wall to shreds.

To my astonishment, I discovered Joshiraku was recently licensed. It apparently hasn’t sold very well, for it’s now on sale for a very good price at the other anime dealer. It’s not for everyone, but if you have a slightly cockeyed sense of humor and an interest in Japanese culture, it might be worth checking out. While it’s much milder than the other Koji Kumeta anime, it’s still not for children.

Update: The Joshiraku discs arrived, and if the first episode is indicative, this may be another case where the fansub is preferable to the legitimate version. Whichever version you watch, you will probably find the fansub’s translator’s notes useful.

Also on sale is the complete edition of Dennou Coil, which is #3 on my list of the best anime series, as well as a couple of Mamoru Hosoda’s movies, The Girl Who Leapt through Time and The Boy and the Beast, and Kenji Nakamura’s exploration of economics.

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Good taste …

… doesn’t apply here, except maybe in a Cramps sense. (Right-click and open in a new window to see every lurid detail.) A friend spotted this vehicle in a college parking lot near his place and sent the picture with the comment that “Anime can be dangerous.” Well, maybe. There are better ways of advertising your enthusiasms — though if that’s the sort of anime you like, it might be better if you kept it to yourself.

Update: the rest of the story.

Fiddling around

Tomorrow is World Fiddle Day, or something like that. Here’s Roger Netherton with some fiddle music.

More of Roger and his friends here and here.

Update: Roger’s in Japan now. Here’s a video of the old-time session last night at the Armadillo Music Bar in Nagoya. After a bit of talking, Roger starts off with three solo pieces such as he would play in a fiddle contest. Then he is joined by several other musicians for the rest of the set.

Heroic links

The Greeks have Achilles and Odysseus; the Romans have Aeneas; the French have Roland; the Spanish have the Cid; the British have King Arthur. And, Americans have Batman.

(Illustration from here.)

And the Japanese have Utena Tenjou. Josh lists some possible interpretations of Revolutionary Girl Utena. (Caution: spoilers.)

e)Financial interpretation

Male uniforms have a tendency to suggestively come undone for no reason at all, a tendency which increases as the show progresses. This indicates that Ohtori Academy has contracted the production of these uniforms to a low quality manufacturer. Furthermore, the academy seems to be perpetually understaffed, as we rarely see any faculty, and indeed almost never see them actually teaching. All this suggests severe budget cuts. Meanwhile, the Chairman’s quarters has a projector which can physically manifest objects, while the Student Council is given an entire tower with a picturesque view. All this is obviously an indictment of how many educational institutions allocate funding in an inefficient manner, resulting in greater financial burdens on students and a lower quality of education.

Odds and ends: musical edition

The one memorable part of the otherwise disappointing series Ghost Hound1 was the opening theme, Mayumi Kojima’s “Poltergeist.” It immediately became one of my favorites. I don’t understand a word Kojima sings, but I don’t need to; the music tells me all I need to know.2 I recently came across a video of the song with the lyrics translated. Does knowing what the words mean add to (or subtract from) the value of the song? In this case, I don’t think it makes any difference. Judge for yourself.

If you want to hear more of Kojima, you face a challenge. Aside from “Poltergeist,” none of her most listenable songs are on YouTube. Your best bet probably is to locate a copy of A Musical Biography, a best-of compilation.

*****

I tracked down a couple of tunes mentioned in an episode of Hozuki no Reitetsu. Yutaka Ozaki’s “15 no Yoru” is probably best appreciated by adolescent drama queens, but the other, “Giza Giza Heart no Komoriuta,” by the Checkers, is not bad at all. (Epileptics beware: jerky video.)

*****

A long time ago, back before the last ice age, I received Malcolm Hamilton’s recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier as a Christmas present. I discovered a few days ago that most of the six-record set is now available as free downloads. The sound is very good for being digitized from vinyl. I can’t give the set an unreserved recommendation, though. At least two of the prelude and fugue pairs are missing, and there are occasional skips — true to vinyl, perhaps, but annoying. Still, the performances are good and the price is right. You can also listen to them on YouTube.3

If you prefer piano to harpsichord, Kimiko Ishizaka has released Book I of the WTC, completely free of any copyright and downloadable for any price you care to pay (including $0 if you’re a cheapskate).

*****

And now for something completely different: Jordan Peterson, performing with the Muppets.

The kawaii demon lord

Ken the Brickmuppet wondered a few weeks ago if there are any current shows worth watching. I’ve only found one tolerable this winter, Endro! The series starts with the hero and her companions defeating the regional demon lord. However, they bungle the forbidden spell and send their opponent back a year in time instead of sealing him away. There/then1 the demon lord finds himself in the form of a little girl, albeit one with horns and reptilian wings. She obtains a job teaching at the local school for adventurers, where she hopes to end the hero’s quest before it starts. Things don’t go according to plan. It’s silly, lightweight fluff — the hero reminds me of Milfeulle Sakuraba — but sometimes silly is exactly what I need.

Screencaps are below the fold.

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Looking back

So, were there any shows last year that were worth watching? Let’s see….

Laid-Back Camp — There’s hardly any story: high-school girls talk about camping and occasionally pitch tents. What makes it noteworthy is the solitary camper Rin, who is presented as a competent, personable, well-adjusted introvert who genuinely enjoys doing things on her own, and who is treated with respect by the other characters.

Cells at Work — The red blood cell focal character is overly ditzy, but otherwise this is probably the finest example of educational entertainment ever produced.1

We Rent Tsukumogami — It looks I’m going to have to sit still long enough to write a proper review of this underappreciated small-scale detective series, since apparently no one else has noticed it. Another time, maybe.

Nobunaga no Shinobi — The third season felt a little more forced and wasn’t quite as funny as the first, but it had its moments.

Hozuki no Reitetsu — I was about to cancel my Crunchyroll subscription, but at the last moment they added the second and third seasons of the series centered around Enma’s chief of staff, and I relented. The first season is still the freshest, but the newer episodes are nevertheless generally at least good and often very funny. Hozuki is probably the show from last year I enjoyed most. There are many more screencaps below the fold.

The above I can recommend. I also watched the rest of the much-praised Planet With, which I had earlier been unimpressed with. It turned out to be Gurren-Lagann-lite, watchable, but with preachiness instead of spiral energy. Cardcaptor Sakura: the Misdeal spent too much time being nice and too little telling a story. Possibly the eventual continuation might redeem it, but I’m not optimistic.

Continue reading “Looking back”

Girls, wolves, guns

Here is the true and proper retelling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

The Little Girl and the Wolf
by James Thurber

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. “Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?” asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother’s house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.

This story is presented as a service for those who watched the first episode of Grimms’ Notes: The Animation, an undistinguished recent offering from Crunchyroll.

(Boo)

A bit of music to set the mood. You can all sing along.

*****

It’s that time of year when I recommend that everyone watch Mononoke, unless I forget. So, if you want to view something appropriate to October 31 done with intelligence and artistry, watch an arc or two of Kenji Nakamura’s first and best anime. It’s not necessary to watch the stories in order. My personal favorites are Bakeneko (“Goblin Cat”) and Nue (“Japanese Chimera”), episodes 10-12 and 8-9, though all of the tales of the simple medicine seller are worth your time.

A couple of other possibilities:

Madoka Magica — Not for casual viewing. If you try to marathon this in one evening, you’ll be an emotional wreck at the end. You do need to start at the beginning.

Hozuki no Reitetsu — Something a little lighter, set in the Japanese version of Hell. The first episode introduces the main characters, but after that you can skip around. My favorites include the fourth episode, which introduces the demure rabbit Miss Mustard, and the eighth, which examines J-pop and modern art.

And there’s always Natsume Yujin-cho.

I have no particular taste for horror and creepy stuff. Although there’s plenty, most I’ve seen bores me. The shows mentioned above caught my attention for reasons other than mere “chills.”