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.
Cells at Work was by far the best show of the summer that I sampled (though the unheralded We Rent Tsukomogami deserves more attention than it’s received) and is probably the best “educational” show ever made. Here a real live doctor comments on the first episode, finding it as accurate as it is entertaining.
I’ve been sampling the new offerings on Crunchroll. As usual, most don’t pass the five-minute test.1 The few that I didn’t immediately abandon are mostly comedies of various sorts.
The best new offering is Cells at Work, which deserves a post of its own. Until I get around to that, see Wonderduck. There are more screencaps below the fold.
Mr. Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues is the mock-heroic tale of an upper-level executive in an organized crime syndicate. Through the first three episodes we see Tonegawa conduct grueling meetings, deal with his deranged, perhaps demonic boss, and broil Kobe beef for his underlings at a picnic. It’s laboriously funny, but enough of it works that I will probably continue watching. I’d probably get more out of it if I had seen Kaiji and Akagi.
Planet With, a tale of absurd planetary menace, reminds me a little of Zvezda, but it makes even less sense. As of the second episode it’s still not clear whether the forces the hero has allied himself with are good guys or bad guys. I’ll probably never know, since I don’t plan to watch more.
I almost quit Asobi Asobase – workshop of fun – in five minutes, but I stuck it out and watched the entire first episode. I should have trusted my initial reaction. There are three unappealing high-school girls, some mild gross-out humor but nothing really funny, and an opening featuring lots of lilies. No thank you.
As regular visitors have probably noticed, I don’t often write about anime any more. This is because I don’t watch much these days. My interests run in cycles, and it’s been about 15 years since I discovered Serial Experiments Lain. Although I still sample many shows, I usually abandon each within five minutes. Steven’s gone, too. It’s time for fresh obsessions.
There are a couple of series I did keep up with this spring. What turned out to be just the first season of The Return of the Son of the Bride of Cardcaptor Sakura isn’t terrible, but it’s not in the same class as the original. It’s mostly filler. The makers focused on the incidentals, such as cooking and singing and being pathologically nice, while neglecting to tell a compelling story until the last few episodes. The sequences in which Sakura obtains new cards seem perfunctory, as if the CLAMP ladies themselves are bored with the story. Perhaps the next season will redeem the flaccid mess, but my question is, do they even care anymore?
The third season Nobunaga no Shinobi is hit-and-miss — making bloody battlefield deaths funny can be tricky — but sometimes it works, and the brief episodes don’t overstay their welcome. Knowing what the characters will do later in their careers occasionally makes the nonsense feel a bit off. Monkey-boy Hideyoshi, above, will later order the execution of the 26 Martyrs of Japan. All three seasons are entertaining, though the first is still the funniest.
Crunchyroll continues to add older anime to its library. Record of Lodoss War, which I’ve been meaning to watch for 15 years, is a recent acquisition. I watched the first episode of the 1990 OVA; it really is animated Dungeons and Dragons. The story isn’t promising and the characters are all stereotypes, and I doubt that I’ll watch more. If you are a D&D player, you might get more out of it than I did. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to sample for the pleasures of old-school anime, such as detailed hand-drawn art and characters with noses.
Another recent addition is Masaaki Yuasa’s wildly eccentric movie Mind Game. It’s difficult to encapsulate, and I’m not going to try, beyond noting that it ranges from claustrophobic noir to sheer goofy silliness. Instead, here are some screencaps from the first third of the film.
The Neofinetia falcata (or Vanda falcata) that I got back in November survived my inept care and is now in bloom. It’s a small plant, almost a miniature. The blossoms are about five-eighths of an inch across, and the length, including the spur, about an inch-and-a-half. This, I gather, is on the small side; an inch across and two-and-a-half long is more typical, according to what I’ve read. At night the flowers smell like vanilla with a slight hint of lemon.
I’ve mentioned before that the Japanese obsessed over these little epiphytes.1 Cacti, which would have been unknown in Japan until the later 19th century, turn up in everything from Martian Successor Nadesico to Elf Princess Rane, so there ought to be an occasional Neofinetia here and there in animated shows. But, as far as I know, there isn’t. Perhaps there’s one in the later episodes of Hyouge Mono, which I never finished, but probably not. I can’t think of any shows featuring orchidaceae.
The Vision of Escaflowne dates back to 1996, when animators understood the concept “nose.” Crunchyroll recently added it to their library. It’s allegedly a classic, but three episodes in, I’m not convinced. It seems to be an attempt to combine as many genres as possible. It’s partly shoujo, partly shounen, partly mecha, partly science-fiction, partly fantasy, partly romance, partly war story, partly whatever. Aside from the noses, the show is noteworthy mainly for the soundtrack, composed by Yoko Kanno and her then-husband, Hajime Mizoguchi.1 I may watch more, or I may not.
I have two Japanese calendars this year. Hozuki no Reitetsu is the usual poster-sized six-pager (one large picture for two months, rather than one smaller picture per month). Girls und Panzer, however, is a single sheet about six feet long, larger than I had expected (when shopping on foreign websites, alway convert centimeters to inches before you order). Amazingly, it arrived uncreased, even though it came loosely rolled in a box rather than in a stout tube. I eventually figured out a place to mount it. Right-click and open in a new window to see the picture at maximum size.
I’m down to two current shows. It’s still pleasant to watch Rin on her solo camping jaunts in Laid-Back Camp, and while the other girls are silly, they’re not insufferable, yet. Still, there is really very little to the series except camping, and I might get tired of it before the final episode.1 Wonderduck, whose taste is very different from mine, is also enjoying the show.
The Cardcaptor Sakura of 20 years ago came to a natural, satisfying ending, and I never felt that there was a need for more. Four weeks into CCS II: The Rehash, I’m still not convinced. Many of the characters in the new series show some degree of Flanderization — Kero-chan is almost intolerably silly-manic now. The structure of the episodes seems less like variations on a theme and more like plugging elements into a formula. I’m not sure that we need Yamazaki to demonstrate that magic-users are gullible in every single episode. There is so much background floral imagery that I doubt that there is any significance to it; perhaps one of the CLAMP ladies found a book of old botanical prints.
Despite my misgivings, I’ll probably continue watching. The fourth episode introduced the probable antagonist; we’ll see if her identity and game are as easy to figure out as Eriol’s were.
Back in the 19th century, virtuoso pianists took themes from popular operas and arranged them into fantasies to showcase their pianistic prowess and dazzle audiences. These operatic paraphrases fell out of favor in the austere 20th century, and nowadays the only one you might hear is Liszt’s “Réminiscences de Don Juan,” based on themes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It’s a shame. They may not be great music, but they can be fun.
In this 21st century, something similar is evolving in Japan. Here’s a piece based on Yuki Kajiura’s music for Madoka Magica, arranged and performed by “Animenz.”
Here’s a more ambitious piece, based on themes from Gunbuster, performed by Yui Morishita, a.k.a. “Pianeet.” (It’s not clear whether it’s his own arrangement, but I suspect that it is.)
And another theme from Madoka, arranged and performed by Morishita.
Morishita is particularly interesting. Besides playing anime music, he is also an Alkan specialist. The reclusive Charles-Valentin Morhange, who changed his name to “Alkan,” was of the same generation as Liszt and Chopin and wrote notoriously difficult piano music. Morishita has recorded three CDs thus far of Alkan’s music. I’d like to embed here the video of his rendition of Alkan’s “Le chemin de fer,”1 which has particularly good sound and shows the finger gymnastics from several angles, but for no obvious reason I can’t.
You can find more of Morishita performing both anime tunes and Alkan on YouTube. I think he just might have the chops to make proper Lisztian paraphrases of anime themes that any fan of piano music will enjoy, and I hope he does. I’d really like to hear a good “Noir” or “Cowboy Bebop” fantasy.
For those who are interested in extreme piano, there is an Alkan Society. Unfortunately, it’s based in Great Britain, and its events are a wee bit inconvenient for Kansans to attend.
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.1
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 II1 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.