Cardcaptor Sakura is back. The first episode of the new series spent most of its time reintroducing the characters from the original, and I can’t say just how triumphant this return is likely to be until I see more.
There is a lot of floral imagery. Cherry blossoms, above, are inevitable in the first episode of any school anime. Others seem more arbitrarily selected, and are sometimes hard to identify.
I don’t call any work of art a “classic” until it is at least ten years old. 2007, which ended ten years ago today, was an unusually good year for anime, the best I remember. What 2007 shows merit the accolade?1
I hereby declare the following to be classics of anime.
• Dennou Coil — The characters are mostly fairly ordinary2 and not punks at all, but nevertheless this tale of augmented reality and human connections is essential viewing for anyone with an interest in cyberpunk and related genres.
• Mononoke — These spiritual detective stories, stylized almost to the point of ritual, remain Kenji Nakamura’s best effort, though everything he does is worth your time.
• Oh! Edo Rocket — Sometimes utterly silly, sometimes dead serious. This wild hodge-podge is nominally set in 1842 Edo, but it’s an Edo with television, internet and blue beasts from outer space.
• Seirei no Moribito — A fantasy adventure with well-developed, sympathetic characters and a good high-stakes story. It’s worthwhile for the art alone. It would probably be a good show to watch as a family.
• Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann — It took me two tries to get into this ridiculous, bombastic, over-the-top extravaganza, but it was worth it.
I’ve compiled a short wish list of shows that the people at Crunchyroll might consider for future acquisition.
Dennou Coil — It’s available on disc, but I don’t think this classic Miyazaki-does-Ghost-in-the-Shell series has ever been legally streamed in North America.
Shounen Onmyouji — Protagonist Masahiro is the only shounen hero who doesn’t make me mutter “idiot.” The show was one of the last licensed by Geneon USA and was orphaned when the company went out of business. The later discs are virtually unobtainable.
Katanagatari — Also available on disc2, but I don’t think this eccentric and ironic chronicle of extreme swordsmanship ever been legally streamed here.
Crest/Banner of the Stars — Possibly the best thought-out dramatization of war in space.3
Over the years I’ve watched my young friend Roger Netherton develop from a talented youngster to a first-rate fiddler. I’ve mentioned him numerous times, e.g., here, here, here and here; you can find additional mentions by searching here for “Roger.” He focuses on old-time music, but that’s not his only interest. He taught himself Japanese well enough that he was able to skip the first year of Japanese language class at college and start with the second year. He later spent a semester at a college in Japan. He did the translations for my notes on installing Hatsune Miku, which is the most-visited page on my website. Here he plays a melody from the anime Someday’s Dreamers, accompanying himself on piano.
Roger is finally ready to record an album. His Go Fund Me page is here. If you like old-time fiddle, you might want to check it out.
New Zealand must have lax or poorly enforced copyright laws. An outfit called “Pixiluv” that ships from there advertises numerous calendars on Amazon.com. Many feature old art and advertisements that are, or should be, out of copyright everywhere, but quite a few others display recent illustrations, such as the Katanagatari calendar above.1
I foolishly attended the orchid show last weekend with my checkbook on hand, with the result that I now have half a shelf of mostly “easy” orchids under lights in the kitchen. Most were in flower when I bought them, and you can see them here.
However, the one that is not blooming has perhaps the most interesting history. That is Neofinetia falcata (recently reclassified as Vanda falcata), the “samurai” orchid. According to the Fūkiran Society of America website,
Furan or wind orchid, the Japanese name for Neofinetia falcata, started to be called ‘Fūki-ran’, which means the orchid of the rich and noble people. Many years ago, only the rich and royalty could own Fūkiran, and they searched the country far and wide for rare and unusual varieties. These plants were often covered by a gold or silver net in order to protect them, and people had to cover their mouths with Kaishi (a thin paper usually used for calligraphy) in order not to breathe on the plants while they appreciated them. This, by the way, is the same way the Japanese appreciate a great sword.
It’s the season when I search for calendars that I can stand to look at every day during the coming year. I recently visited a shop at a regional mall, where I was surprised to see not only a Hatsune Miku calendar, but also two of Sailor Moon, one large and one small.
I found a number of Japanese calendars online that might be of interest to some visitors here. Unfortunately, most listings don’t include a sample image. The calendars are probably like the ones I’ve bought in the past, with six poster-sized pages, each representing two months, rather than twelve foot-square images.
A curiosity: there’s a Crassula ovata calendar, though the illustrations displayed don’t much resemble a jade plant. C. ovata is an easy plant to grow, aside from being a magnet for mealybugs, but I wasn’t aware that it’s “lucky.”
I’ll probably watch Kino’s Journey II to the end, even though none of the three episodes so far have been memorable. The older series is not streaming legally anywhere I’m aware of, which is a shame.
I’ll probably also continue with The Ancient Magus’ Bride, even though the third episode, about the last flight of an old dragon, was disgustingly sentimental. It was set in Iceland, a land of glaciers and volcanoes where continental plates meet, but instead of Hekla or Bárðarbunga, we get a linden tree.2
Urahara is like a can of pink icing: sweet, with no substance. Recommended only if you like pastel colors.
I wish I could like Recommendation of the Wonderful Virtual Life. I gave the third episode a try after quitting part-way through the second, but it was no use. The main character is too clueless to be sympathetic. I can understand being socially awkward, but MoriMori-chan is just plain stupid.
I dropped A Sister’s All You Need in less than five seconds. That’s a record.
I would like to watch Hozuki no Reitetsu II, which is streaming on Hi-Dive. I’m also curious about Girls’ Last Tour, which is streaming on Amazon Strike, as is Made in Abyss, which apparently was the only series from last summer worth watching. Hi-Dive requires a paid membership. Amazon Strike requires an additional fee above that for Amazon Prime (which is less and less prime as time goes on; two-day delivery nowadays takes three to five days). There isn’t much else on these services that I want to see, and what they do have is mostly dubbed. I don’t have unlimited funds for entertainment, and anime is not a primary interest these days. (I’ve spent far more time recently comparing different recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas than I have watching animated shows.) It’s hard to justify paying for additional memberships when there are only one or two shows worth my time on each site. For now, I’ll stick to Crunchyroll.
Crunchyroll has been steadily adding older shows to its catalog, some of them very good. If you’re a speed reader, Masaaki Yuasa’s The Tatami Galaxy is worth your time. If you like vast international conspiracies but find Dan Brown stupid, there’s Koichi Mashimo’s Noir. The latter features a soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura; when Mashimo recycles animation (and Noir is partly an exercise in recycling), you can close your eyes and just listen to the music.
Batman Ninja sounds ridiculous, but the movie might actually be worth watching. The writer is Kazuki Nakashima, whose credits include Gurren-Lagann and Kill la Kill, and who wrote the play that Oh! Edo Rocket is based on. He knows something about heroism.
Believe it or not, the New York Times posted an article on anime that I partially agree with. Their top five are also my top five, though not in that order. (#6, though, is way too high.)
Although the 2003 Kino’s Journey is a favorite of mine and the first series I would recommend to someone who thinks he doesn’t like anime, I don’t like all the stories equally. I occasionally re-watch “Land of Prophecy” for its blend of absurdity, whimsy and horror, for instance, but I’ve never much cared for the two-episode “Coliseum.” I was disappointed therefore when the New! Improved! Kino’s Journey remade the latter story as its second episode; I would strongly have preferred that all the new episodes be based on stories not previously adapted. Given that there are something like 20 volumes of Kino stories now, there should be plenty to choose from.
I notice that fans of the earlier series find the new version of the story, now called “Colosseum,” much inferior to the first. I recently loaned out the DVDs of the first series and therefore can’t compare the older episode with the newer. However, I do have the Tokyopop paperback of Keiichi Sigsawa’s Kino no Tabi, translated by Andrew Cunningham, that was available for 15 minutes in 2006. It includes the original version of “Coliseum.”
“Colosseum” (2017) is a serviceable adaptation of the original story, not outstanding but acceptable. It’s necessarily streamlined to fit within the limits of one episode, but the missing parts — mainly the details of the first four fights — are expendable.1 There are some inelegancies in Crunchyroll’s translation, e.g.,
Perhaps that’s accurate, but it’s clumsy. From the book:
Given their recent experiences, Hermes was not nearly so enthusiastic. “I hope you let me rest awhile when we get there,” he muttered. “Some place cool, dark and not too damp.”
If the first episode is indicative, Kino’s Journey II2 survived the loss of Ryutaro Nakamura, who directed the 2003 anime. It felt very much like old times, with a little more detail, and a little more blood. Once again, I was reminded of The Twilight Zone. This week’s thought experiment involved a country where murder is legal. It’s not necessarily a paradise for psychopaths. The story inevitably brought to mind a certain Heinlein comment. If the show maintains the level of the first episode, there finally will be something worth waiting for every Friday.
Watching Kino’s Journey has the unfortunate side-effect of making everything else seem trivial. Nevertheless, there are a couple of other first episodes I watched all the way through which deserve comment.
Urahara is yet another variation on the majou shoujo theme, this time set in a pastel version of the Harajuku neighborhood in Tokyo. Aliens, called “scoopers,” who have no culture of their own, invade the Earth and scoop up anything that interests them, such as the the Arc de Triomphe, the Statue of Liberty, or a pyramid or two. It falls to three girls in Harajuku, one with little horns, one with nekomimi and a tail, and one who sews, to defend their world, Harajuku style.
It’s a silly show. The counterpart of Sailor Moon‘s Luna and Cardcaptor Sakura‘s Kero-chan is a talking fried shrimp, for instance. Silly doesn’t mean stupid, though, and absurd though the episode was, it was always entertaining and visually playful. I probably will continue watching it. For a discussion of Harajuku and this episode, see Emily.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie concerns a young woman who drops out of society to play an online fantasy RPG game. Although it’s not explicitly stated in the first episode, it’s strongly implied that she and her online friends all visit (or work at) the same convenience store, though they aren’t aware of that yet, and that their online and offline lives will get muddled together. I might watch more to see how it develops.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride will have to wait until I have more time. Hozuki no Reitetsu II will have to wait until the discs are released in North America and I can budget their purchase. (Amazon Strike Hi-Dive, grrr.)
So, Frank Zappa’s kids are thinking of presenting holograms of him in concert, just like Hatsune Miku? Holograms of Miku are fine, since she’s computer-generated anyway, but re-animating Frank seems ghoulish to me. I doubt that he’ll ever dance as well as Miku, either, no matter how skillfully his hologram is programmed.
When Tatsuya Yoshida isn’t compiling medleys, he plays a Japanese version of zeuhl. Here’s a concert by Koenji Hyakkei, one of his many projects.
I’ve become quite fond of songwriter and composer 伊藤真澄, a.k.a. Masumi Itou (or Ito, Itoh or Itō), though her singing voice does take some getting used to. Tunes she’s written include the ending themes for Flip Flappers3 and Humanity Has Declined and the openings to Magical Nyan Nyan Taruto4 and Azumanga Daioh. A quick search on YouTube will turn up many more. I recently found some of her recordings on Amazon.jp. Her album Harmonies of Heaven is mostly of her own compositions, but she does include the traditional tune “故郷の空,” above. It sounds oddly familiar.
Crunchyroll recently added Haibane Renmei to its listings. I have long counted Haibane Renmei as my #1 anime, and with it Crunchyroll now has four of my top five. The website these days is streaming much good Japanese animation and is well worth the membership price.
However, Crunchyroll also has tremendous amount of garbage, and even more that is thoroughly mediocre or just plain boring. An anime neophyte picking shows at random is likely to get discouraged. Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the best offerings at Crunchyroll for those who are wondering where to start. My taste is impeccable, of course, and my judgement infallible, but some anime enthusiasts might find my choices to be quirky and eccentric. I urge those people to compile their own lists and post them on their websites.
I could add more shows to the last category, but that’s enough to suggest the range of anime.
Want more information? Steven Den Beste wrote about many of the series listed above. His reviews are here, and you can search Chizumatic for his comments on other shows. Steven had his quirks and blind spots, but in general he was the most reliable guide to anime I’ve found.
I got curious about how affordable a koto would be, should I ever make enough room in my place to keep one and find time to practice. Not very, it turns out; prices range from $1,250 to $7,000 (sale price) at one source.
However, if you cross over to the Asian mainland, you can find similar instruments at more affordable prices. Chinese guzhengs start at $380. Here’s a Vocaloid tune played on a guzheng.5
Here’s something to bring to the next jam session:
Need an orchestra, but can’t afford to pay for pro-quality sample sets, let alone the real thing? Here’s a useful freebie. (If the complete instrument crashes your DAW, download just the sections you need. I’ve found the percussion to be particularly handy.)
What were the big hits in past decades around the world? You can get an idea with Radiooooo.
So it’s time for the summer anime season. Is there anything worth watching? Let’s see what’s on Crunchyroll.6
Abandoned in five minutes or less Tsuredure Children — High school romangst. Bleah. Aho-Girl — Really stupid girl likes bananas. Double-bleah. Knights and Magic — Medieval mechas and really stupid punctuation (I corrected the title). Fox Spirit Matchmaker — Just bleah. Hina Logic — Cute yet boring girls do cute yet boring things.
Abandoned in fifteen minutes Katsugeki Touken Ranbu — The staff spent more effort on the pretty scenery rather than the pretty sword-boys’ clothing and jewelry this time, and the action is grimmer, but it’s still pretty silly.
Not abandoned yet Elegant Yokai Apartment Life — Something like Natsume Yuujin-cho-lite. Bland business major takes a room in an apartment building where all his neighbors are yokai or eccentrics. It could be fun, or it could be dull, depending on where it goes after the introductory episode. Restaurant to Another World7 — Fine dining with dragons and demons. As with the preceeding, it could be fun, or it could be a waste of time.
I’ll give the last two at least one more episode. I don’t expect more than light entertainment from either, though. Perhaps something substantial will air this fall.
Update (July 10)
The new tenant in the yokai apartment building got a nosebleed nine minutes into the second episode. The hell with it.
The second installment of the restaurant stories was much like the first. Vignettes about the inhabitants of a high-fantasy world who visit the western-style restaurant serve primarily as excuses for food porn. The show remains pleasant and watchable, even for a non-foodie like me, but it’s not particularly memorable.
I sampled a few other new series, none of which are worth naming. This looks like a season to rewatch old favorites, work on your backlog, or do something else with your life.
It’s been a while since I last scanned anything from Richard’s box of old anime magazines. Here’s the September 1991 Newtype. The cover features the first Silent Möbius movie, which, I gather, featured excellent animation in the service of a creaky story.
I haven’t posted much recently, partly because I’ve been busy, but mainly because most of what I would post would be complaints. Right now I am irritated with Apple computers, my website host, Native Instruments, lawn mowers, the financial industry, pathogenic bacteria and viruses, idiots with drivers’ licenses, kids running amok, oblivious parents, the human race in general. Each of these is worth a lengthy rant — the last a lifetime of invective1 — but I’ll spare you. Instead, I’ll just mention The New York Times, which has discovered Crunchyroll.
Writer Glenn Kenny may be the world’s outstanding authority on Droopy cartoons, but about anime he’s an ignoramus. In “Boomerang and Crunchyroll: Of Old Cartoons and Fresh Anime,” he name-checks the movies Akira and Ghost in the Shell, thereby gaining negligible credibility as an otaku. He plainly knows nothing about anime series, which comprise the vast majority of Crunchyroll’s offerings, and he can’t be bothered to do minimal research. Of all the series, excellent and lousy, that Crunchyroll streams, the only one he mentions is Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor, one I had dropped in less than five minutes. I would guess he picked that one because it is in the top row of the “simulcasts” directory and features a character named “Glenn.” He writes that the first episode
“… features a scene in which Glenn walks in on a roomful of his female students in their underwear, yells that he is not going to give in to the “cliché” that says he is now required to avert his eyes, takes a good, long stare and then is thrown back by an unseen force, blood spurting from his eyes.”
I have no desire whatsoever to watch the rest of the episode, but if you have, please tell me whether the blood spurts from his eyes, as Kenny says, or his nose. I have a hunch that our expert does not know the convention of anime nosebleeds.
The other Crunchyroll title Kenny mentions is Fist of the North Star, which he describes as “gruelingly violent.”
So, according to the alleged Newspaper of Record, anime, as represented by Crunchyroll, is fanservice and violence. I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the irresponsible and wrongheaded Charles Solomon, but at least he knew something about Japanese animation.
I sample new shows on Crunchyroll as they appear. Usually I lose interest within five minutes, but occasionally something surprises me, such as Flip Flappers last year or, more recently, ACCA. I found another surprise today, Alice to Zouroku, in which Sana, a young escapee from a nefarious research institute, meets Zouroku, a prickly old florist who takes no guff from anyone, be they yakuza, police or mahou shoujo.
Sana, called the “Red Queen” by the staff at the institute, has strange powers. She can teleport away from trouble, and she can look inside your mind. She has other talents as well, as do other young residents at the institute. She also has poor social skills and little knowledge of how the world works, consequences of never being allowed outside all her life until her escape.