Ten types of silliness

The human mind requires regular doses of absurdity to maintain sanity. Not just any nonsense will do, though; otherwise, you could obtain your recommended daily allowance of absurdity by perusing the editorial page of any newspaper. The best nonsense is as rigorously logical as it is absurd, e.g., Lewis Carroll. The anime industry supplies much nonsense every season, and winter 2014 looks to be particularly rich. Here’s a quick look at some first episodes to see which might be properly silly and which are likely just dumb.

A recent genre of anime is travesties involving Oda Nobunaga. There are two this time, Nobunagun and Nobunaga the Fool. One involves a military-otaku girl who wields a gun embodying the spirit of Nobunaga; the other has mecha. Both feature random historical characters, from Joan of Arc to Jack the Ripper, and both feature lots and lots of action. Yawn.
Silly/dumb rating (enjoyably absurd = 10; just plain stupid = 1): 3 (both shows)

Stuffed animal toys are power

An imperious little girl riding a pink bicycle with training wheels intends to conquer the world in World Conquest Zvezda Plot, and she just might do it. There are lots of explosions, and many strange people wearing masks run around, acting threatening and shouting slogans. So far, it makes no sense at all — which is not necessarily a bad sign, but I do expect some exposition in the second episode.
Silly/dumb rating: 7

Death bunnies

I sampled three separate shows about people with magical powers, two of them in high school settings. Magic is more contagious than the flu in Magical Warfare. Norio Wakamoto is a frog familiar in Wizard Barristers. A young man learns that he is a princess in Witch Craft Works. There are also giant armored bunnies.
Silly/dumb ratings: Magical Warfare, 5; Wizard Barristers, 6; Witch Craft Works, 5.

Space Boobies Dandy is nothing like Cowboy Bebop. The first episode was pure farce. This could be fun if the writers are deft, but Dandy is a flake who could easily become tedious. I suspect the dub is unwatchable.
Silly/dumb rating: 6

Robot Girls Z

Robot Girls Z is an improved Love Pheremone (not recommended), in which the not-quite-competent heroines present a greater threat to their city than do the villains they fight. It could be fun, but the third short episode was too off-color for my taste.
Silly/dumb rating: 5

In Tonari no Seki, a student maintains his sanity at school by undertaking various complicated projects at his desk in the back of the classroom, such as building a Pythagoras-Switch arrangement using erasers as dominoes. This annoys the girl at the next desk over, and she annoys me. The best part was the music, which reminded me of Masaki Kurihara.
Silly/dumb rating: 4

So cheerful

Hell is a complicated place in Hozuki no Reitetsu. Hozuki is the demon king’s right-hand oni, handling crises, solving problems and raising goldfish flowers (which are nothing like Nematanthus). I usually find “slice of life” series tedious, but this slice of afterlife has promise.
Silly/dumb rating: 8

I’ll probably watch more of Hozuki no Reitetsu and World Conquest Zvezda Plot, and maybe Space Dandy and Wizard Barristers. The rest — meh. At least there’s more Kill la Kill.

Submarines, rabbits and ogres

I’m not compiling a top-ten list of this year’s anime because I didn’t watch ten series all the way through. These are the shows that I started and didn’t quit watching in disgust or boredom.

Tolerable

Armed and dangerous

I Couldn’t Be a Hero, So …: It sagged badly in the middle, and there was more fanservice than I care for throughout. However, Yu-Shibu pulled itself together for a satisfying grand finale. Also, any show that espouses the free market deserves credit.

Continue reading “Submarines, rabbits and ogres”

Briefly noted

Stella 9

Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C3, is Gainax’s shameless attempt to capture the Girls und Panzer audience. It’s slightly more realistic: set in a high school that’s larger than some colleges, the girls fight with airguns rather than tanks. The first episode wasn’t bad, and the animators pointedly did not show any pantsu. I’ll probably continue watching. Update: In the second episode, one of the characters steps out of the shower wearing just a towel, and later bounces a bit; this is a Gainax show, after all. Still, it’s mild as fanservice goes. Stella etc. promises to be a pleasant entertainment featuring a bunch of (mostly) non-neurotic eccentrics, but it’s not another GuP.

By the way, if after watching Girls und Panzer you’ve got the yen to drive a tank, you can, if you’re in Georgia. (Via Borepatch.)

The Brickmuppet endured the entire first episode of Watamote and wondered where the punch line was. I only made it half-way through; this just isn’t my kind of humor.

Thomas McDonald has begun a series of posts on Tarot cards from a Catholic perspective. When I learned that il sole penetra le illusioni was a mahou shoujo series based on Tarot decks, I was curious to see how much the writers got right (very little). The show looks like it’s intended to be a dark fantasy in the vein of Madoka Magica, but between the bad botany and the middle-aged transvestite, the staff didn’t quite nail it. Still, parts of the first episode were odd enough to be intriguing, and I might watch the second episode. Or I might not.

The first episode of the current iteration of Genshiken was largely about a girl who was actually a boy. Never mind.

More screencaps from the first episode of Stella with the very long title below the fold.

Continue reading “Briefly noted”

Ending well

Jonathan says that Shin Sekai Yori is “… the best science fiction TV show that I have ever seen, animated or otherwise.” I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but it definitely is in a class with Serial Experiments Lain and Dennou Coil. It’s the best show of any kind I’ve seen since at least Madoka Magica. The ending did not disappoint — not that I was worried; it was obvious early on that the creators knew exactly what they were doing.

It’s absolutely not for children, and even for adults I can’t give it an unreserved recommendation. It’s partly a horror story, with monsters and worse than monsters, all the more chilling for what isn’t shown. But if you have the stomach for it and are willing to think about aggression, social control and human nature, Shin Sekai Yori is worth your time.

*****

I can give Girls und Panzer an unreserved recommendation for all ages. The premise is silly — teams of high-school girls compete in tank battles — but the staff played it straight and made it work, and did so without panty shots. The last episode was exhilarating and satisfying. If you watch it with friends, you’ll likely cheer aloud as Miho and her comrades fight their desperate battle.

A glance back at an ordinary year

shin19

I’m not going to make a “ten best anime” list for 2012 because I haven’t watched ten shows all the way through. Two of the year’s best best are incomplete, and there are a couple of well-regarded series that I have yet to look at (Sakamichi no Apollon and Space Brothers). Instead, this is just a casual survey of this year’s offerings that I watched.

Series I didn’t make it all the way through the first episode of: Chihayafuru, Hayate No Gotoku: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse and Magi. The last I might give another try sometime, since the writers evidentally understand more about economics than do our betters in Washington.

Series I watched only the first episode of: Accel World, Binbougami ga, Campione, K, Nyarko-san: Another Crawling Chaos, Sword Art Online and Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai. Jonathan thinks highly of the last, and I would watch more, but what I saw wasn’t sufficiently brilliant to warrant subscribing to Anime Network. (Update: Also Ozma, Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate and Shining Hearts: Shiawase no Pan. See how memorable they were?)

Series I watched more than one episode of before losing interest: Kamisama Hajimemashita, Polar Bear Café and Sengoku Collection.

Unfinished series I might yet watch the rest of: Inu X Boku SS.

The year’s major disappointment: Moyashimon Returns. Too much soap opera, not enough craziness.

This year’s minor disappointment: Dog Days II. Entertaining, and the characters are mostly likable, even admirable; but the fanservice-to-story ratio is too high. It’s a kid’s show that I can’t recommend for kids. (And surely Leonmitchelli can find something more appropriate to her station to wear than daisy dukes.)

These are the shows that I can recommend:

Continue reading “A glance back at an ordinary year”

First look, last look

I recently sampled some of the winter and spring anime series. A few are watchable, but there’s no Dennou Coil or Madoka Magica among them. Mouretsu Pirates remains the only one I can unhesitatingly recommend, and I classify it as “light entertainment,” albeit an unusually well-executed example.

*****

I picked up the first disc of the original, quarter-century-old Saint Seiya to fill out an order in one of RightStuf’s 25-for-$100 sales. I made it though the first episode. The armor was pretty and the hair impressive, but the story was pure dumb shounen. Has the franchise improved any over the years? Nope. This is as far as I got in Saint Seiya Omega:

Jack London could not be reached for comment.

*****

I launched the first episode of the new, upgraded version of Nyarko-san to see if it was any better than the abysmal Flash shorts inflicted upon us two years ago. Within five minutes, the male lead stuck a fork into the wrist of the cute crawling chaos. The hell with it.

*****

I’ve been curious about a card game that occasionally turns up in such anime as Animal Yokocho, where it is called “100 poets.” Exactly how it played is not clear there or anywhere else I’ve seen it. It turns out to be uta-garuta, one of the many forms of karuta — sort of a literary hybrid of slapjack and concentration. A hundred cards bearing the last two lines of short poems are laid out on the playing surface. Someone reads cards from a second set bearing the complete poems, and each player tries to be the first to find the card bearing the ending lines of the poem being read.

It might be a pleasant diversion to devise an English-language version of the game, if someone hasn’t already done so. Variations come to mind — silly limericks for children, other limericks for adults, lyrics from the Great American Songbook, etc.

Competitive karuta is the gimmick of Chihayafuru, yet another damned series about quirky high school students. Unfortunately, I didn’t last long enough to see any card action. The josei art style didn’t appeal to me and none of the characters caught my interest. Jonathan watched the entire show and liked it quite a bit, so I might give it a second chance.

*****

I did make it all the way through the first episode of Ozma, which apparently has nothing to do with L. Frank Baum. As with Saint Seiya Omega, the character designs are appealingly old-style. So is everything else, except not quite so appealing. It’s set in a wasteland Earth, where competing quasi-military groups are interested in a Mysterious Woman. Giant whales swim deep in the desert sands; one of the commanders relies on tarot cards; there’s lots of shouting and shooting; I’m starting to lose interest. Maybe I’ll watch more. Maybe I won’t.

*****

The first episode of Polar Bear Cafe focused on a lazy panda’s less-than-wholehearted attempts to find a job. I generally don’t find slackers amusing, and I didn’t find it particularly funny. I believe the next episode concerns a penguin with money problems. I’ll see how that is and then decide whether to keep watching. If Polar Bear Cafe does turn out to be worthwhile, it will be valuable as a show for youngsters as well as adults.

*****

Sengoku Collection is another series in which Japanese historical figures are reimagined as pretty, busty young women. It looks like it’s going be mostly silliness and mild fanservice. If it maintains its tone and doesn’t get stupid, it might stay on my watch list.

I wonder: how would you go about making an American version? I’d probably pick characters from the Revolutionary War; the scars from the Civil War still haven’t healed. What kind of anime girl would George Washington be? Or Thomas Jefferson, or Aaron Burr? Where would you put them, and when?

*****

I watched the first two episodes of Inu x Boku Secret Service. An aloof, unfriendly girl with purple eyes moves into an apartment house for certain unusual individuals. There she finds, to her displeasure, that she has acquired an aggressively obsequious bishie bodyguard with mismatched eyes. The show poses the question: why would a multi-tailed fox want to be a dog? Also, is the dog a loyal golden retriever or a manipulative cocker spaniel? ((I generally prefer the company of dogs to that of people, but I’m not fond of cocker spaniels. I’ve been bitten more often by them than by any other breed of dog.)) I expect the underlying story to be the unspoken struggle for dominance between the girl and her bodyguard. As long as the series maintains its light touch and doesn’t devolve into kinkiness, I’ll probably watch more.

There were six

Three months ago I was following six new shows, the most ever at one time. So, how did the winter season pan out?

Gosick — Victorique and Kujo both annoyed me in different ways, and the first few mysteries weren’t that interesting. It takes more than a blonde Leningrad Cowboys haircut to sustain my interest. Dropped.

Fractale — Even mediocre Miyazaki beats pretentious, incoherent imitations. Dropped.

Yumekui Merry — I dropped it when it was licensed. I’ll probably pick up the boxed set in a year or two. It’s not high priority. I skimmed ahead in the manga; there’s possibly a good story there, but I doubt that it could be wrapped up neatly in 26 episodes, let alone 13.

Kore wa Zombie desu ka — Any show that makes a guy in a frilly pink dress a exemplar of manliness deserves recognition. Still, it felt like a small fragment of a much larger story, and at the same time, it seemed that the writers had no particular goal in mind but were making it up as they went along. I almost made it all the way through the series, quitting ten minutes into the last, irrelevant episode. It’s a possible buy if it’s licensed for DVD, but it would be low priority.

Level E — The oddest show I’ve seen in a while. The central character, a hyperintelligent alien bishie prince and a complete jerk, torments and plays practical jokes on his staff and on earthlings unfortunate enough to catch his attention. Surprisingly, it’s watchable and sometimes even fun. It gives Takehito Koyasu a chance to chew the scenery as the prince’s much-put-upon assistant. If it’s licensed, it might be worth buying when the boxed set is on sale. The opening theme is my favorite from the winter season.

Mahou Shoujo Madoka?Magica — The last two episodes were more than worth the wait. The show has had me thinking of Divergence Eve/Misaki Chronicles; the last episode strongly reminded me of Serial Experiments Lain as well. Every episode surprised me; even when I had some notion of what was coming, Shinbo and Urobuchi consistently exceeded my expectations. I don’t declare anything a “classic” until it is at least ten years old, but I think that in 2021 Madoka will join Cardcaptor Sakura, Lain and Shingu on my very short list of true anime classic series. ((Haibane Renmei (2002) and Dennou Coil (2007) are also probable classics.))

Last impressions

Perhaps it’s because I’m in a sour mood, but nearly everything I’ve sampled recently has bored or annoyed me.

Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera — A Go Nagai creation with a high-gloss finish: juvenile humor, mild smuttiness, a manic pace and no subtlety whatsoever. High school sophomores will love it.

Hanasaku Iroha — One narrative motif I loathe is the protagonist making a spectacularly bad initial impression on her new associates at the beginning of the story. Hanasaku Iroha might actually be a good show, but I couldn’t make it through the first episode. Update: It’s just as well I didn’t. Yeesh.

Tiger and Bunny — The first half of the first episode was fun, but then my interest flagged. The premise does have some satirical potential, and I might give it a second chance when I’m less grouchy.

Dog Days — I wish I could like this — there are dog-girls and cat-girls, all very cute, no one gets killed, and the hero actually does have some genuine ability — but it just hasn’t caught my interest. Perhaps I haven’t played enough video games.

Tetsuko no Tabi — A show about train otaku for train otaku from several years ago. Someone decided to sub it. Why?

The Epic of Zektbach — A female warrior in a land where women bare their midriffs wields a sword that makes her invincible. There is a downside to using the sword, and all ends badly. The creators tried to make the story a parable about science and technology by flashing numbers, chemical diagrams and mathematical formulae on the screen whenever the sword is drawn. It doesn’t work.

It looks like C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control is the only spring show worth watching, and that’s assuming that Nakamura focuses on telling a story rather than editorializing.

The little samurai

One Saturday afternoon back before the last ice age, when I was very young, my then-girlfriend Gloria and I walked to the town theatre and watched a Japanese movie called Magic Boy. It was exciting, colorful, fantastic in every sense. It made all the Disney movies I had seen seem like pablum. I thought it was the greatest movie ever made, and I wanted to go to Japan and learn magic.

Some months later, I watched Forbidden Planet, and that was the greatest movie ever made. As the centuries passed, I gradually forgot about Magic Boy.

Several years ago, when I discovered anime by way of Princess Mononoke, I recalled that I had seen some Japanese animation back in prehistoric times. I did a little research and determined that film was Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke, which was the first anime to get a theatrical release in the USA. Although it’s apparently still under license, it’s not available in any form in region one that I’ve been able to find. I’ve periodically checked for torrents, but I never found a live one until a week ago.

Sasuke and his older sister live in the Japanese countryside with monkeys, deer, squirrels and bears. One day he encounters a giant salamander, who turns out to be an evil witch intent on causing as much suffering as possible. Sasuke resolves to defeat her, and leaves his home to learn magic. After taunting the leader of a group of bandits and meeting the witch again, he learns martial arts and magic from an old hermit living high on a steep mountain. Meanwhile, the bandits burn and pillage a town, and the lord of the region takes an interest in Sasuke’s sister. There are plenty of swordfights and magical battles, and good eventually triumphs over evil.

So, is it indeed the greatest movie ever made? Maybe, if you’re seven years old. Better than Disney? I haven’t seen anything from the Mouse in centuries so I can’t really say, but in terms of production values, probably not. Is it worth watching? Yes. Beyond its historical significance, it’s a simple but entertaining story told in a straightforward manner with energy and humor.

The version I found is dubbed in three languages. The English soundtrack sounds at times like it was recorded underwater. The story and characters are uncomplicated enough that you can watch with the Japanese soundtrack without getting too lost, and the music is better, too.

Screen captures below the fold.

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“However, by that point …”

I lasted six minutes and fifty-five seconds the first time I watched Katanagatari. Earlier this month, when I had too many urgent tasks to accomplish and no desire to start any of them, I gave Katanagatari another chance. This time it held my attention, and I watched the rest of the series as quickly as I could download it. I can now state that 2010 has been a good year for anime, with three very different first-rate series (The Tatami Galaxy, Kuragehime and Katanagatari) and a first-rate movie (Summer Wars).

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Forest wars

The first half of Osamu Tezuka’s Legend of the Forest is a history of animation. It begins with static sketches of a forest, with squirrels, birds, trees with faces, and a brute with a chainsaw. After a glimpse of a zoetrope, the detailed drawings are succeeded by very primitive animation. Gradually, the art becomes more sophisticated, wth homages to Winsor McCay and Walt Disney. At about the half-way point the film goes from black-and-white to color, and soon thereafter it completes its evolution to Tezuka-style art and animation.

Unfortunately, the man-versus-nature story is not as interesting as the art history. Tezuka has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. I’m not going to bother summarizing it — you can glean the essentials from the screen captures below. The soundtrack is Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony. It was not an ideal choice; sometimes it works with the animation, sometimes against it (and I’m not much of a Tchaikovsky fan anyway). Legend of the Forest is from 1987, 25 years after Tales of the Street Corner, but the earlier film was more deft.

Heavy-handed though Legend of the Forest is, it is still worth seeing for the art. However, the pieces on The Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu that I am likely to rewatch are the satirical and whimsical cartoons, such as “Memory,” “The Genesis” and “Jumping.” The 6:22 of the last are sufficient reason to recommend the DVD to anyone interested in the history of anime.

More on Tezuka here.

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Slayers Tolerable

Naga, left, and the other fashion designer from the third episode.
Naga, left, and the other fashion designer from the third episode.

A friend found that he had two copies of Slayers Excellent, so he gave me one (thank you, Richard). It’s set earlier than the TV series, before Lina meets Gourry, Zelgadis et al. Instead of them, we have Naga the Serpent (approximately .8 Rushunas). How much you enjoy Slayers Excellent depends on how much of Naga you can stand. She’s every bit as stupid as Gourry, but unlike the dense but admirable swordsman, she’s a narcissist with no compensating virtues. It’s a good question whether she’s more dangerous as an enemy or an ally. She sorely tries the patience of Lina and the audience, and she might be a candidate for the next poll.

Naga aside, the three episodes of Slayers Excellent are mostly decent farces ((The ending of the second episode is a bit indecent.)) in which Lina faces a vampire, escorts a spoiled rich girl on a journey, and gets caught in a fashion feud that escalates faster than a flame war. The last episode is a showcase for Aya Hisakawa as the deranged defender of tradition.

I ran a few tests, and I can report that, contrary to rumor, Naga’s laugh will not peel paint. Possibly, if you play it repeatedly at a high volume on a good sound system, it might soften the surface layer of a painted object, but if you have furniture to refinish, a chemical stripper will work far more efficiently and present fewer health hazards.

Unified Defense Force

Mao-chan goes on too long. It’s based on a clever notion and is executed with considerable charm, but the writers weren’t inventive enough to keep it consistently interesting through 26 half-length episodes. The story meanders through many standard anime situations: the sports festival, the beach episode, the hot springs episode, the bunny suit, the maid uniform. They’re not complete wastes of time — the beach episode is one of the better ones, in fact, though not because of the beach — but they mainly serve to let us spend time with the girls rather than advance the story, and Mao and Misora aren’t particularly interesting characters. The series would have been better overall had it been shorter and more focused.

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Mao-chan, Miku, etc.

When the Fnools invaded Earth, they disguised themselves as two-foot-tall real estate salemen, figuring that no one would take them seriously until too late. ((See Philip K. Dick’s “The War with the Fnools.”)) The aliens in Mao-chan adopt a similar strategy: by assuming mercilessly kawaii forms, the invaders make the Japanese defense forces reluctant to engage them in combat, lest the human soldiers be seen as bullies. The Japanese fight cuteness with cuteness: the head of the land forces enlists his eight-year-old granddaughter, Mao, to battle the invaders, arming her with a baton, a full-size model of a tank, and a clover-shaped pin that transforms her into a not-terribly-competent but very cute mahou shoujo. Mao soon is joined by a couple of other eight-year-old girls: Misora, representing the air force, and Sylvie, representing the navy, both recruited by their doting grandfathers. Mao and Misora are ordinary grade-school girls, as kids in anime go, but Sylvie is distinctly Osaka-ish.

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Not fun anymore

mwb01

The tenth episode of Macademi Wasshoi is more of the same, with the students and faculty of the magical academy running amok while rescuing Takuto and the girls from a trio of formidable bandits. Then, about twenty-minutes into the episode, it suddenly gets very serious, and Anyone Can Die. The eleventh episode continues in the same grim vein, and there’s another death (or two, depending on how you count). It soon turns out that they’re Not Quite Dead, but now the story veers off in another unfunny direction, borrowing a motif from the final episode of Petite Princess Yucie and the forty-sixth episode of Cardcaptor Sakura. Hitherto, Macademi Wasshoi was a farce with occasional thoughtful moments. Now it’s a drama, with Sakuma and the girls as annoying comic relief.

The episode ends happily with a restoration of the status quo, but the fun has leaked out. The final episode, in which the girls try to get a Christmas present for Takuto, might have been enjoyable earlier in the series, but following the eleventh episode, it seems off-key.

So, do I recommend Macademi Wasshoi? Yes, with reservations. It’s funny and inventive overall, but it’s also frequently off-color with abundant fanservice. If it sounds like something you would like, I recommend watching the tenth and eleventh episodes last.

Update: Steven liked the eleventh episode a lot. There is a lot going on there and a lot more that’s hinted at, as Steven points out, but the shifts in tone are too jarring for me.

Status report


Astro Fighter Sunred

These past ten days or so I’ve spent most of my spare time digitizing old vinyl. ((Once you get a CD player, getting up every twenty minutes to turn an LP over seems unreasonably laborious. Even though I have one of the larger vinyl collections that I know of, I don’t often listen to records anymore.)) It’s been productive: I’ve got over ten CDs’ worth of newly-convenient music to listen to. I have a few more LPs I want to get into the computer before I move on to the next project. Watching videos is not high-priority right now.

Nevertheless, I have watched some anime — not a lot, but some. Here are a few very brief notes.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea — discussed below.

Macademi Wasshoi #5 — Just plain icky ….

… and #6 — More watchable than #5, but the show is still not back on track. I hope we don’t have another Kamichu! here, a wildly erratic series that starts strongly but goes nowhere.

Ghost Hound through #12 — My lunchtime project. With Ryutaro Nakamura and Chiaki J. Konaka involved, it ought to be good, but the plodding pace is frustrating. The eventual payoff had better be outstanding. My impression of the series the first time I tried watching it was that it was a taut twelve-episode show inflated to a flaccid twenty-two, and I still think so.

Natsume Yuujinchou through #4 — A show from the summer that got relatively little attention in the otakusphere while it was airing. Another example of Shinto 101, it reminds me strongly of Mokke, both in its subject matter and in its tone. It occasionally gets dangerously sentimental, but it probably is one of the better series of the year.

Astro Fighter Sunred #1 — A very silly gag series, featuring short, absurd skits and very minimal animation. You probably need to be drinking with friends to properly enjoy the show.

I may write more about these later. Or maybe not.

Fish story

Someone smuggled a video camera into a showing of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, and thus I was able to take a look at it last night. It’s not first-rate Miyazaki, but it is much better than Howl’s Moving Castle. ((The book, Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, is excellent. Give copies to all the youngsters on your Christmas present list, and grab one for yourself. But don’t waste your time on the movie, Miyazaki’s worst.)) It will be worth seeing on the big screen when it’s released in the USA.

The good news: the core story, about the fish who wants to be a human, is something Miyazaki is good at. Ponyo, the magic goldfish, Sosuke, the boy who finds her, and Lisa (or Risa), Sosuke’s mother, are believeable, sympathetic characters. Some of the scenes reminded me of Totoro ((There is a significant parallel to Totoro in that Sosuke’s other parent is absent and, in the latter half of the movie, at risk.)) and Kiki. Ponyo’s first evening as a human in Sosuke’s home is as charming a sequence as Miyazaki’s ever done.

The bad new: the outer story is a mess. It’s a mixture of fairy tale, science fiction, paleontology, celestial mechanics, fantasy and deep ecology that doesn’t immediately add up to anything coherent. (I suppose I should be grateful that there isn’t a war going on.) Perhaps the symbolism will click after several more viewings and all will be clear and logical, but I doubt it.

Ponyo is not prime Miyazaki, but half of it is very good, and all of it is pleasing to the eyes, if not to the mind.

Incidentally, I was surprised by the quality of the video, both image and sound. There were very few clues that this was a surreptitious recording.

Screen captures below the fold.

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