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Anime News / Blue Thermal
« on: Today at 08:09:59 AM »
Blue Thermal

By Jonathan Clements.

Tamaki Tsuru ignores her mother’s complaints and applies to Aonagi University in That Fancy Tokyo, where she intends to make friends, fall in love and maybe do some studying eventually. Much more important is the selection of the right school club, because that will be the talent pool that supplies her future buddies, bedmates and probably business connections. At first, she plumps for Tennis, as after all, didn’t the last Empress meet Mr Right on a tennis court? But this lasts all of ten minutes until a stray volley causes a domino-chain of disasters, ending with damage to the Aviation Club’s prized glider. Unable to scrape up the cash to pay for it, Tamaki instead joins the Aviation Club in penance, hoping to work off her debt in the anime feature Blue Thermal .

This unlikely new position throws her in the middle between the two boys who rule the roost, the good-cop/bad-cop duo of Jun Sorachi, the club captain, and his punchy underling Daisuke Kuramochi. But it’s the kindly Jun who sees that the clumsy newcomer has real flyer potential, and who clues her up on an opportunity too good to miss. If Tamaki becomes a really good glider pilot, and if she takes top prize in the national competition, the 30,000-yen purse will clear her debts overnight. If she agrees, Jun will even throw in a boyfriend for her from the club, although this is unwelcome news to Daisuke when he’s ordered to take the role…

Clubs are a huge deal in Japanese universities, many of which can turn into social societies where students spend a couple of years recovering from the hothouse efforts of matriculating in the first place. Because a university often has direct connections with industry, a judicious choice can shunt a student firmly onto the right career path – there are universities that fast-track graduates straight into certain professions: the performing arts, politics, and even specific companies. Meanwhile, clubs often become more than mere hobbies, and more like all-consuming passions supplying much term-time socialisation, activities, friends and potential life-partners.

I will confess to having a certain bitterness about Japanese university clubs, after a run-in with the authorities in my student days, which were spent at an institution with fast-track connections to… er… air hostessing and travel agencies. [Don’t laugh: even today I can walk onto a JAL flight and get a mysterious upgrade if I’m wearing my graduation pin.] Discovering that the shogi club at Kansai Gaidai had its own suite-sized “club-room” but no members, two of my chess-playing friends and I offered to join up and restart it. We were, however, rebuffed, on the grounds that no Japanese students had volunteered to chaperone us, and the university was embarrassed that only foreigners were interested in Japanese chess. I suspect, as well, that they didn’t trust us not to burn the building down, although in the thirty years since, we’ve done okay – one of us is a US college professor , another is a diplomat in Cambodia, and I… well, they would probably still disapprove of a life in anime . But I digress…

Blue Thermal started life as a manga in Comic@Bunch, a magazine for mature readers, where it ran from 2015 to 2017 – the anime keeps close to the manga story right up to the end, which was an all-new concoction put together by the writers in consultation with the original creator. Kana Ozawa based her original pitch on her own life at college, in which she, like Tsuru, did indeed join the aviation society while studying Japanese Literature at Hosei University, eventually earning a pilot’s licence. Her manga version, however, soon drifted away from real life, not only turning her leading lady into a girl from far-off Nagasaki rather than her own native Kanagawa, but also discarding much of the original focus on a slow build towards flight. Editors insisted on putting her character in the glider early on, instead of leaving the business of taking to the air solo as a distant McGuffin, and this, in turn forced her to move away from her original plan of depicting an everygirl learning the ropes, to faster-paced narrative of a “natural” genius taking wing to the place she belongs.

Writing about the original manga’s appearance in NEO magazine, I said: “It’s not just the ridiculous expense and faffery [let’s face it, it’s a lot pricier than a tennis racquet and a few balls]. There’s also an entertaining dilemma about the nature of Tamaki’s glider fandom – is she liberated and fulfilled by her expensive hobby, or just another dilettante soullessly trying to find something that makes her look more interesting on Facebook? She puts in supreme efforts, not just in practice, but in logistics, just to win five seconds alone the sky in a search for the titular invisible updraft that will propel her to greater heights. Is this an expensive illusion of freedom, or a telling allusion to modern life?”

The movie version focusses for a while on some of the draconian rules of the aviation club – seemingly petty stipulations, like counting all the screwdrivers, that nevertheless serve a purpose in a high-risk environment. Much like the supposedly prima-donna requirements on certain rock band’s call sheets (like a demand for a saucer of all-blue M&Ms in the dressing room), it’s not merely a bit weird, but also a handy way of double-checking that a venue has read all the small print. And in a similar fashion, the onscreen drama that unfolds when Tamaki drops a £2 Philips screwdriver is designed to drill into the rookies the critical importance of careful maintenance. Otherwise, someone is going to fall out of the sky in a £20,000 coffin.

The script is packed with entertaining asides, including student bystanders annoyed that Tsuru’s glider accident hasn’t led to an on-campus punch-up, and Daisuke’s angry reaction when Tsuru assumes that the Aviation Society are a bunch of stuntmen in a wacky-raced “birdman rally.” The nature of a glider can turn some customs on their head, as Tamaki discovers when Daisuke bluntly asks her how much she weighs. She bristles like a mean-girl in a shojo manga, only to be told that if she lies about it, the counterbalances in the glider could be fatally miscalculated.

“Originally, it was supposed to be a TV series,” director Masaki Tachibana told Cho Animedia. “But then after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, it turned into a movie, so I had to consult with Natsuko [Takahashi, co-writer] about how to trim five volumes of manga down into 90 minutes. We had to choose which chapters to drop, which to keep, and how to turn what was left into a coherent movie whole.”

He was more candid with Creators Station, a website for industry personnel, in outlining some of the pitfalls that the adaptation brought with it. “It’s a sporting story, so we can’t deviate too far from the real-world rules. But gliders don’t have engines, so the competition is a bit plain. I mean, you have to fly safely, so you can’t get the speed and thrills of, say, the Red Bull Air Race, which is a series of aerial time trials. So, I had to pay a lot of attention to the delicate balance of being true to the sport, versus fiction. It feels like I chose a storyline where both of those elements could touch down as well as possible. It doesn’t make sense to just take the fun of the story and throw away its realism, and it’s hard to choose where to draw the line.”

Tachibana alludes to a thorny series of problems deriving from the material available to him. Gliders are notoriously quiet and unpowered, which means no revving engines, nitro accelerations or afterburners. Instead, the film leans heavily on the power of silences in the air, and also on Shogo Kaida’s soaring score, which has to carry much of the weight usually ascribed to sound effects. The composer, better known for live-action but also for the Prohibition era anime series 91 Days, supplies a bunch of stirring orchestral pieces to help take up the shortfall.

“In story terms, I wanted to keep the axis that it’s Tamaki’s dedication that helps everyone. Of course, the glider is one of the main characters, but for the drama to work, the main character has to be Tamaki herself.” For that, writers Tachibana and Takahashi emphasised the big and small elements of her struggles. “Drama is born from receiving a setback and then overcoming it. But the way we define a setback depends on the person who is experiencing it. It might be ‘oh no, I dropped my candy bar’ but it would be difficult to get people to sympathise with that. So instead, with Tamaki, we have these core feelings. She grows up in a sad family environment, with a dad who denies her existence, her parents get divorced, her sister hates her. She has this broken heart from an unrequited love in high school and suddenly she gets to reinvent herself at college, a new life in a new place, and she keeps on pushing on, refusing to let the knocks and dents get to her.”

“Yasuhiro Yamako, the art director, drew really detailed backgrounds,” remembers Tachibana. “Because so much of this story takes place in the air, I needed to impart a sense of the seasons through the sky, so that’s the first thing that we talked about. Clouds are important for that. We asked him to evoke the seasons in the sky itself, such as big, fluffy cumulo nimbus in the summer, and thin clouds, like fog, in the autumn. I often draw layouts with pencils for animation, but you can’t express clouds too well with pencils. You can only draw a muffled, so-called cloud shape, and you cannot draw a realistic cloud at the layout stage.”

Tachibana cites his childhood viewing of The Goonies and The Never-Ending Story as the experiences that shaped his sense of wonder, conceding that both are live-action films, but both have a certain quality about them that he thinks animation is better at producing. “I want animation to be something that enriches the lives of its audience,” he said. “In this work, I wanted to emphasise the value of having a positive attitude even if life throws you into situations you don’t like. Now I’m a grown-up, I can appreciate that some people go to the movies to escape things they don’t like about their lives, so I guess that what I really want is that you come to see this movie, and for a while afterwards, you feel good about yourself.”

Blue Thermal is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

Source: Blue Thermal

Anime News / A Place Further Than the Universe
« on: February 19, 2024, 10:48:05 AM »
A Place Further Than the Universe

By Zoe Crombie.

Kimari is a high school student teetering on the edge of experience, wanting to live while she’s young but needing the right push to do so. That extra encouragement comes in the form of Shirase, a fellow student whose belief that her mother, a missing Antarctic explorer, is still waiting her in the South Pole, has rendered her an outcast among her peers. Together, along with some friends made along the way, the pair go on an expedition to the far reaches of the Earth to find Shirase’s lost mother and capture the adventure they’ve been craving, with plenty of fun to be had on the way.

Though the main names that come to mind when considering female anime creators are Naoko Yamada of A Silent Voice fame and prolific writer-director Mari Okada, the voice behind numerous popular series, there are many more women in the industry who deserve to be highlighted. One filmmaker has bubbled under the surface since the early 2000s and is finally finding greater recognition is Atsuko Ishizuka, a prominent animator at the studio Madhouse who, in the past decade, has begun to helm more projects of her own. You’re likely to have come across a few of these, most notably No Game, No Life, a popular isekai series following two shut-ingamers whisked away to a fantastical world.

Her other major series, A Place Further than the Universe is also about leaving normality behind in favour of a spectacular adventure. Our chirpy protagonist Kimari has plenty of energy, but lacks focus and motivation, as evidenced by her lament at having never “done anything” with her youth and wishes to change this before she leaves high school for good. This changes when she crosses paths with Shirase, a girl so hell-bent on getting to the globe’s Southernmost point that she is nicknamed Antarctica and bullied by fellow students. Because this is an anime, she is thankfully able to begin her journey, with the help of Kimari and the new friends they make along the way; it’s a corny premise, but one that feels sincere thanks to the show’s more novel elements.

Really, the premise of the series is what sets it apart from similar slice-of-life style escapades that use similar characters with nearly identical dynamics. With a uniquely optimistic protagonist, a seriously focused brunette, and a tomboyish girl loaded with energy, there’s a certain resemblance to KyoAni shows like K-On! and countless other series with high school girls at their centre. But what makes these familiar types work here is the sense of progress brought by the series’ conceit – with each episode, the gang is a step closer to the promise of Antarctica, and the possibility of unveiling the mystery behind Shirase’s mother’s disappearance. This prevents the show from stagnating, and lends genuine tension at points to their quest, testing and developing their friendships while providing the audience with new well-rendered locales to absorb, whether in downtown Tokyo or the tundra itself.

Another element that helps to put some flesh on the conventional bones of this anime is the high energy and exaggeration put into the animation that perfectly captures the feeling of unbound youth that thematically runs through the story. The most memorable moments of the show are exuberant in their camerawork and dynamic editing, a particular highlight being a chase scene in the second episode that makes you feel as breathless as the characters within it. This energy also comes through in the characterisation – their default moe expressions are often swapped out for more intense versions of smiles, frowns, and laughter, occupying a kind of middle ground between gentler shows like Tamako Market and more off-the-wall series like Nichijou. These moments complement the healthy sense of humour the show has around its own absurdity, but also bring a visual goofiness that is surprisingly effective in the show’s more sincere moments.

It’s easy to see why A Place Further than the Universe is so beloved by its fans – between the likable characters, exuberant animation, and sense of adventure, there’s a lot to love here even for those less inclined toward high school anime. For fans of shows like No Game, No Life and its movie who haven’t broached Ishizuka’s other work, this is a no brainer that’s just as effective in portraying a real adventure (without so much reliance on fan service to keep the attention of viewers).

Zoe Crombie is an associate lecturer and PhD candidate at Lancaster University working on Studio Ghibli. A Place Further Than the Universe is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

Source: A Place Further Than the Universe

Anime News / Manga: Kafka
« on: February 16, 2024, 01:07:47 PM »
Manga: Kafka

By Tom Wilmot.

As part of its latest wave of Japanese releases, Pushkin Press has taken the plunge into the world of manga, starting with Nishioka Kyodai’s Kafka . First published in Japan in 2010, the manga adapts several short stories from Bohemian-born author Franz Kafka, who’s widely regarded as one of the most important literary figures of the 20th century. Presented here in its original Japanese format – reading from right to left – the manga blends Nishioka Kyodai’s distinct and unsettling imagery with Kafka’s obscure and absurdist tales.

The authorial credit for Kafka officially goes to Nishioka Kyodai (literally ‘Nishioka siblings’), this is, in fact, a pen name for the creative brother-sister duo of Satoshi and Chiaki Nishioka. Born in Mie Prefecture, the pair have been active in the manga scene since 1989, their initial works being published in the now defunct alternative manga magazine Garo, a safe haven of sorts for creators seeking artistic freedom away from mainstream publications.

Despite little information on the elusive authors floating around, we know, courtesy of this release, that elder brother Satoshi spearheads the story and composition, while sister Chiaki is responsible for the visuals. Together, the siblings have developed an unorthodox style that they’ve applied to their darkly-themed manga, which has seen them build a cult following over the years. Their 2009 piece, God’s Child, frequently appears on superlatively titled lists like ‘most disturbing manga’ and is by quite some way their most famous work.

A quick glance at the sibling’s output is all it takes to see that they don’t fit the mould of traditional manga, which is perhaps why precisely none of their works have received an official English translation until now. Given the likely familiarity that English-speaking audiences will already have with Franz Kafka, this particular collection serves as a fitting bridge between East and West, reframing classic European literature through Nishioka Kyodai’s uniquely eerie lens.

With Kafka, Nishioka Kyodai have adapted nine of Franz Kafka’s stories in all, ranging from some of his shortest pieces, like ‘The Vulture’, to one of his most famous works, ‘The Metamorphosis’. The adapted works provide a solid overview of Kafka’s varied oeuvre, each featuring the author’s hallmark dark humour, surreal narratives, and instances of overpowering existentialism. Nishioka Kyodai strip these stories to their core elements, with carefully chosen passages of the original text accompanying uncanny imagery, consisting of gangly figures and near-hypnotic geometric designs.

One of the joys of reading Kafka’s stories comes from how open they are to interpretation, often a direct result of their abstract nature. The manga brings to life some of the more difficult-to-comprehend aspects of Kafka’s writings, such as the mysterious and seemingly immortal Odradek from ‘The Concerns of a Patriarch’, a tale presented as an almost psychedelic, ethereal experience. Similarly, the manga also realises some of Kafka’s lucid inventions, notably the intricate execution apparatus from ‘In the Penal Colony’. Here, the source material’s detailed description of the central machine in action is replaced with a series of caption-less panels, making for a colder, arguably more haunting rendition of the narrative climax.

Contrasting these rich visual interpretations of Kafka’s stories is the duo’s take on ‘The Metamorphosis’, which is remarkable in its restraint. The pair choose not to show protagonist Gregor Samsa at all, instead leaving the reader to conjure the results of his sudden transformation into a horrifying insect in their minds. In doing so, the authors have not only managed to retain the sense of mystery found in the original short story but have also upheld a requirement of Kafka’s made in 1915, the author writing to his publisher that “the insect is not to be drawn. It is not even to be seen from a distance.” Such a consideration is a sign of Nishioka Kyodai’s clear respect for the source material, which is found consistently throughout the manga.

Anyone familiar with Kafka’s writings will be aware of his tendency to ramble, the author often chaining together long-winded sentences that race into one another. There’s an urgency to his work that can make it equal parts confusing and exhausting to read, but that, of course, is part of its charm – his distinct prose contributing to the intensity of his nightmarish tales. However, Nishioka Kyodai’s stripped-down adaptations allow for a more meditative reading experience. Kafka’s monolithic blocks of text are broken down into smaller, digestible chunks, as you’re encouraged to focus on individual passages and, especially in the case of these stories, contemplate their significance.

It’s worth noting that while Nishioka Kyodai’s Kafka is impressive as an adaptation, it might not serve as the best introduction to Kafka’s work alone. The manga certainly complements the existing material, as it’s interesting to read into the creators’ interpretation of Kafka’s stories, and this is what a successful adaptation should do: urge you to view the same story in a different way. However, someone unfamiliar with the source content may garner little from the manga in the way of meaning without the context of the original material. ‘The Bucket Knight’, in particular, lacks the same narrative punch in this cutdown version despite its fantastic visuals. While not a necessity, I’d recommend seeking out the relatively short source material to enjoy Kafka to its fullest – or at least visit it afterwards to supplement a manga reread.

Kafka closes with two afterword sections, the first from Satoshi Nishioka, who delves into the challenges of adapting Kafka’s stories to graphic novel form. The mangaka gives his impression of the Bohemian author’s work and provides worthwhile insight into the chosen direction for this project, particularly where ‘The Metamorphosis’ is concerned. The second afterword is provided by translator David Yang, who discusses the mighty task of interpreting the Japanese translation of Kafka’s texts while also trying to retain both the author’s voice and Nishioka Kyodai’s reading of his stories. Based on the final product, it would be fair to say that Yang has succeeded in maintaining the integrity of both works.

The decision from Pushkin Press to publish Kafka in the first place is worth commendation in and of itself. It has made accessible to English-speaking audiences a unique piece of work that, for some, will serve as a welcome introduction to fringe manga. Hopefully, this neatly packaged release paves the way not just for future translations of Nishioka Kyodai’s gorgeous works but also those of other independent mangakas whose tales are yet to find their way West.

Kafka , the manga, is published in the UK by Pushkin Press.

Source: Manga: Kafka

Anime News / Harmonie
« on: February 13, 2024, 03:06:00 PM »

By Zoe Crombie.

A shy boy admires a popular girl in his class, a safe distance away from her macho ‘boyfriend’ and judgemental peers, hoping that she may just be different from the others. This isn’t an uncommon set up for an anime, particularly one set in a high school, but Harmonie takes an intriguing direction as his ability to recreate any tune he hears attracts her attention in a twist of fate. As the two become closer, their creativity becomes intertwined, and the film delves into the mystery of an evocative song, a shared dream, and three glass bottles.

Though many of the most famous anime directors are associated with feature films (Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon) and to an extent television series (Hideki Anno), but there’s another arena of anime where some fascinating creative voices can be heard: shorts on video, as festival entrants and as music videos or even advertisements allow for enormous experimentation, and pithy explorations of unique story concepts.

One filmmaker who works regularly in this mode is Yasuhiro Yoshiura. Known for film festival releases that showcase fresh ideas in a limited runtime, Yoshiura has made a career out of the art of the short form animation, from video releases like Pale Cocoon and Aquatic Language to anime premiered online like Patema Inverted and Time of Eve. Usually working in a science fiction-tinged mode with futuristic settings or strange new phenomena, the director has a flair for the spectacular and the unexplainable, and nowhere is this clearer than in his 2014 short Harmonie.

Harmonie follows Akio Honjou, a shy high school boy who only feels understood by his two friends, but who longs to be known by his more popular crush Juri Makina, a quietly beautiful girl surrounded by an intimidating group of louder kids. Describing this desire in an opening narration as wanting to find commonalities between their ‘worlds’, this idea becomes increasingly literal, with the inner worlds of the characters expressed beautifully through dream sequences soundtracked to music written in-universe by Makina.

A benefit of the short runtimes of Yoshiura’s work is undeniably the visuals, which are given much more attention than they would have been afforded in a more sizeable piece of media. There’s no overuse of pre-drawn establishing shots or staring awkwardly at the backs of characters in Harmonie; each shot, even when depicting a simple character reaction or classroom scene, feels intentionally realised and structured in a way that allows even the most mundane moments to stick with you.

With that being said, the standout elements of Harmonie are undeniably the dream sequences: headfirst dives into fantasy away from the slice of life setting of the rest of the film. Loosely resembling the growing love between the two leads, but suggesting a more complex backstory for Makina in particular, these scenes are rendered by Yoshiura to be a total stylistic break, more reminiscent of a sci fi Suzume than an Anthem of the Heart style high school romantic drama.

Centring around an apocalyptic world reminiscent of Yoshiura’s later works, this fictional space is filled with faceless automatons, ruined towers, and mysterious magical artefacts, all rendered with wonderful melodrama. The effect is memorable, giving the impression of a dreamscape more impressively and authentically than most animations out there.

While unique in its premise, Harmonie does sometimes fall into some of the more unfortunate tendencies of its romantic shounen peers. Watching our protagonist bang his head against the wall while wailing ‘baka’ under his breath gets a little tiresome the second time round, and the overbearing masculinity of the so-called boyfriend does tend to grate (by design, to be fair). But in other ways, the cliches enhance the sincerity; like Makoto Shinkai, the master of breathing new life into old romance tropes, the film is infused with the naivety and enthusiasm of two kids feeling as though they’re the first two people in the world to discover love.

Harmonie may leave you wishing for a longer runtime, but it’s a great little story with a visual and emotional scope that more than exceeds what you might expect from its limited runtime. It’s also a great way into Yoshiura’s filmography, filled with works like this that give a little space to a big concept. Like the dream at the centre of the film that clings to the characters and irrevocably links them, this is an OVA that will stick with you for a long time to come.

Zoe Crombie is an associate lecturer and PhD candidate at Lancaster University working on Studio Ghibli. Harmonie is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

Source: Harmonie

Anime News / Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove it
« on: February 13, 2024, 03:26:24 AM »
Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove it

By Amelia Cook.

Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove It is a comedy about two intense postgraduate students who develop feelings for each other in their research lab. Before the first set of opening credits, elegant and confident Himuro states her feelings for her aloof intellectual rival, Yukimura. He is stunned, and expresses cautious interest, but isn’t sure his feelings are love. “What is the definition of ‘love’?” he asks. “Himuro, upon what evidence did you determine that you love me?”

You’d expect Himuro to be upset, but she isn’t. On the contrary, she is delighted by his challenge, and presents a thorough argument, with pie-charts, graphs, and a working hypothesis. In this scene and beyond, the series turns into a fantastic representation and allegory for the experience of online dating. Just not literally.

For a start, it works on the same premise and processes as a dating app. After Himuro’s presentation, she and Yukimura evaluate her argument, adjust the hypothesis, and determine a new research project: to establish the ‘base conditions’ of love, the signs that anyone in love is guaranteed to experience. They intend to use these to construct a Turing machine that can answer the question “Is this love a 0 or a 1?”

In other words, scientists are searching for the right numbers to accurately assess the viability of a romantic relationship before it begins. That’s the premise of Science Fell in Love and every dating app out there from eHarmony to OK Cupid . “Romantic affection, and the question of its determination, can be rendered as a formula.”

Ask a question, and make an educated guess at what the answer could be. Test your guess, learn from the results, repeat. That’s the scientific method in a nutshell, which drives Himuro and Yukimura’s research, and their relationship. Online dating apps don’t use data from wearables like smart watches (yet). But whoever is advocating for it behind the scenes may well sound like Yukimura: “If we monitor heart rate, we can quantitatively measure ‘thrilling palpitations of love’.”

Digital dating entrepreneurs have worked this way for years. Back in 2014, in an OK Cupid blog post titled ‘We Experiment on Humans! ’, co-founder Christian Rudder said: “If you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.” And if you want to tell a story about an internet-based industry without actually showing computer scientists at work, computer scientists in a lab are a sensible side-step. Scientists like Himuro and Yukimura are a particularly good choice. Empirical to a fault, their insistence on prizing logic over emotion helps approximate online dating dynamics in their 100% offline relationship.

When complete strangers agree by text-message that they see the potential to sleep together/get married/raise children, it adds a shot of intimacy to their otherwise distant relationship, with nothing in between. Because of this, couples who match online have a different dynamic on their first date than couples who crushed on each other in person, or who show up to a blind date. 

Science Fell in Love parallels this dynamic by swapping interpersonal unfamiliarity for extra emotional distance, gag-manga style. One way it does this is by inverting the online dating mentality. Many people come to online dating with a shopping list, intending to take no risks until they find someone who meets a lengthy checklist of conditions. However, Himuro and Yukimura intend to take no risks until they find a lengthy checklist of conditions to justify their existing interest. In both cases, the goal is to keep attraction at arms’ length until the data lines up.

The show also inverts specific online dating experiences. For example, when Himuro states her feelings for Yukimura, both are sitting with their backs to each other, staring at computer screens while they talk. Where app users may play it cool in DMs and freak out in real life, Himuro and Yukimura speak calmly while their typing dissolves into gibberish.

Himuro and Yukimura are naturally detached characters who find a way to turn romantic exploration into their job. Each aspires to “always deal with things calmly and intellectually.” So, their choice to explore their feelings through a lab-wide research project rather than, say, dinner and a movie, actually downgrades their intimacy from comfortable rivals to awkward new colleagues.

While the experiments they run do bring them closer, they frequently interrupt that closeness to record observations, or doom it from the start by prioritising efficiency. They communicate more as collaborating researchers than potential partners, hiding their desires and fears behind clinical analysis and academic theories. All this extra distance largely mitigates the impact of their pre-existing relationship on their romantic prospects. Because of this, their relationship develops more like a couple who met online than a workplace romance. 

If Science Fell in Love were about two people who met through an app, you wouldn’t need to change much about their relationship. Consider:

Figure 1: After their efficient and matter-of-fact expression of mutual interest, Himuro and Yukimura arrange meetings where they can act out different relationship behaviours. They analyse their actions and reactions in depth to assess their romantic potential.

Figure 2: Both find it hard to trust their own instincts, instead relying on what the data says. As a result, each new piece of information has a disproportionate influence on their own opinions of their romantic potential.

Figure 3: When a sentiment is difficult to voice, both use text-based communication instead. At one point, they even set up a way to accurately record their emotions towards each other through one tap on their phone screens.

If you’ve ever tried online dating, some of this may sound familiar.

Himuro and Yukimura’s first on-screen interaction is exactly one minute of verbal sparring followed by Himuro telling Yukimura that she has feelings for him. The start of many happily-ever-afters in the internet age. A far cry from the longing glances and dramatic confessions more typical of anime romance. 

The two of them rarely refer to their time together before the series, and never in detail. From the audience’s perspective, their relationship begins with the equivalent of twelve messages and an expression of mutual interest that transforms their previous dynamic. It’s one of the most efficient starts to a requited romance in anime, featuring two of the most obvious candidates for online dating.

With some anime couples, you have to wonder how compatible they actually are. Are they happier together than they would be with anyone else, or just childhood sweethearts who believe in fate? What fuels their relationship: is it true love, or the traumatic event they went through together in season one? Not so in Science Fell in Love. Instead, you have to wonder if either of these people could ever make a romantic relationship work with anyone else. Himuro and Yukimura’s language is science. Interrupting a hug to review their respective heart rates might look unromantic, but they enjoy these experiments in their entirety. They are never happier or more attracted to each other than when converting a real-world problem into equations they can solve. 

This intense devotion to rigorous analysis puts off other love interests and makes progress slow. But it’s also exactly what draws Himuro and Yukimura together and gives their relationship a fire no-one else understands. 

They’re unusual. The way they communicate is unusual, the activities they enjoy most are unusual, and the way they approach romance is unusual. From what we see of their backgrounds, this has always been the case, and has often isolated them from their peers. Niche online dating is perfect for people like this, social outsiders on the same wavelength. Himuro and Yukimura’s relationship shows what online dating can achieve at its best.

And anime is the best medium to portray online dating. One of the biggest challenges for any online dating series is that text-based interactions are boring to watch . Most of us understand now that on-screen ‘hacking’ looks nothing like the real thing. But that convention was set before many people knew what the real thing looked like. Everyone knows what online dating looks like, warts and all, whether they’ve used it or not. At its worst, you’re seeing dick pics and getting ghosted. At its best, you’re chatting happily in DMs. How do you make that look interesting, let alone romantic? 

Internet romance is a steamy sub-genre in novels but rarely the central topic of any TV show or film, in Japan or otherwise. Anime has the best shot of making online dating into an aesthetically pleasing story though. The most unimaginative way to show text-based interactions is through close-ups of screens, typing fingers, moving eyes, reading out loud. Anime takes this option often. But on the other end of the spectrum, you have the overlapping speech bubbles in the superflat Summer Wars netscape.

Between those two extremes is a range of less creative but still visually interesting options. The obvious option is to have characters interact in the form of online avatars, but Science Fell in Love takes another tack, illustrating Himuro and Yukimura’s communication with lively equations, graphs, and charts. Just as often, though, it cuts to manga panels, sumo wrestlers, classic anime, fairy tales, dating sims, sports, computer animations, stick figures, and other aesthetics. It’s vibrant and engaging, bringing dry data points to life.

But why is online dating all but absent from anime? The first reason is simple: stigma.

In 2018 YouTuber That Japanese Man Yuta hit the streets of Tokyo to ask young passers-by if they had heard of Tinder. Most hadn’t, though one recalled it being “some sort of app for talking with foreigners.” When asked about other dating apps, most had no experience or interest, assuming the accounts would be fake or that they’d be swindled out of money.

The earliest dating websites in Japan, known as deai-kei (literally ‘encounter’) sites, quickly became notorious for crimes like fraud and solicitation. The result was a stigma around online dating that’s taken two decades, a generation of Facebook use, and a pandemic lockdown to turn the tide.

Luckily for online dating companies, the emergence of the word konkatsu in 2007 opened the door for a rebranding. Konkatsu is a term to describe the active search for a partner to marry. For Japanese singles in 2007, konkatsu mostly referred to activities like asking a friend to introduce them to new people or attending goukon (group dates), both still popular options. But the dating industry spotted an opportunity. Within two years there was a ‘konkatsu boom’ of commercial services to facilitate the search for a spouse. Nowadays, konkatsu services (and renkatsu services, to aid a search for love without the focus on marriage) form a complex ecosystem of matchmaking agencies, live events, and online activities. 

Dating apps and websites are not only part of this ecosystem, but legitimised by it. Because konkatsu is seen as one solution to Japan’s dangerously low birth rate, there’s a lot of institutional support for it. That support has become more and more digital, especially since the global pandemic has simultaneously worsened the birth-rate crisis and made it harder to meet new people by chance. 

Local officials facilitate machikon, city-wide matchmaking events, now also online. The Japanese government owns around 25 matchmaking agencies, and in 2020 announced funding to subsidise AI upgrades for those agencies. Some companies even pay for dating app memberships as an employee benefit. Being in this category makes online dating more respectable and trustworthy. 

Not everyone in Japan does konkatsu, of course. But it’s not a tiny niche, either. Of the people who got married in Japan in 2019, it’s reported that 30% had been using konkatsu services . Many more have used konkatsu services – including online – for fun, friends, and FOMO. Japan’s dating landscape is full of varied relationship types, dating tools, and motivations for finding a partner.

But anime shows almost none of that variation, because romance anime are almost all based in fantasy. Some romance anime are based in the fantasy genre, involving supernatural beings, magical powers, and other worlds are common. Some show more mundane fantasies, like childhood promises, foreign settings, or harem households. Most often though, the fantasy is nostalgia, set in historical periods or – the big one – teenage years. Look up any anime romance listicle, remove anyone young enough to be in high school, and see what’s left.

This is the second reason online dating is so rare in anime: the industry’s bias towards youth. Romances between human adults in anime set in contemporary, real world Japan are rare. Even then, most of those adults are university age, not ready for the konkatsu that makes online dating respectable. Sure, it’s unreasonable to expect any one medium to represent an entire country’s romantic landscape. But it’s striking how little of that landscape anime covers compared to Japanese TV, films, novels, and manga.

In anime, adults most often fall in love through education, house-share, or shared passions. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But there are so many more relationship origin stories that other Japanese media explore and anime doesn’t touch. In 2020 alone, Japanese TV dramas showed adults falling in love through all of the above, plus omiai (a formal matchmaking introduction), quickie marriage, dating apps, government matchmakers, social media, even social distancing at home! They showed romance between old people, queer people, an international couple with children… And 2020 wasn’t special. 

Manga and novels offer even more diverse stories, some of which become boundary-pushing series like 38sai Batsuichi Dokushin Onna ga Matching Apuri wo Yattemita Kekka Nikki (The Results Diary of a 38-Year-Old, Divorced, Single Woman Who Tried Dating Apps). While the title makes it sound like a light novel , it’s actually a memoir, based on the true story of a Tokyo resident enjoying her single life with younger men and celebrities. Anime just doesn’t tap into the same range of potential options.

Occasionally a series will add some nuance. In 2017, mid-career professionals met in a digital space in Recovery of an MMO Junkie… but the space was an MMORPG, and didn’t bring them together in real life. In 2020, Rent-a-Girlfriend had undergrad students meeting through an app… but as escort and client, slotting into old deai-kei associations. While serials like this add welcome variety, they are few and far between. There is one outlier going above and beyond to balance the scales, though, and that’s Aggretsuko.

Main character Retsuko, a company accountant in her mid-twenties, develops crushes and enters romantic relationships as you would expect. But she also dabbles in konkatsu, despite not wanting to get married yet, attending an omiai, goukon, and ‘omiai party’ (speed dating for marriage prospects). On top of this, Aggretsuko has so far showcased a female employee quitting work when she got married, a divorcee with no interest in remarriage, a woman in her forties investing in konkatsu, a working mother, and more. It’s refreshing for an anime to give so much attention to adult women navigating dating, love, and marriage.

With one notable exception: online dating. Season three of Aggretsuko does introduce a dating app… as a prototype for a character’s side hustle. No character at any point uses the app with the intention to find a date with it. Aggretsuko features a VR boyfriend who puts you in debt through microtransactions, but doesn’t want to deal with online dating.

And this is the third reason online dating doesn’t show up in anime: because anime doesn’t often represent stigmatised industries literally. Take love hotels. In Japan, their pay-by-the-hour rooms attract three main demographics: sex workers, people having affairs, and keen young couples. In anime (that isn’t hentai, which is a separate genre with its own conventions), they’re mostly a place to shelter (Weathering with You) or to kill time (Beastars). They become sites of safety or comedy, sometimes even sexuality. Sex work? Infidelity? Not so much.

In light of all that, Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove It successfully packages the feel of online dating to make it both more acceptable for Japanese audiences and pleasing to romance fans expecting characters to fall in love organically. It has the same premise as a dating app, and follows the same processes. The characters are highly compatible misfits, the kind online dating excels at bringing together. They interact in a way that brings online dating hallmarks like a quick start, emotional distance, and over-analysis into their relationship. The romance progresses in a similar way to relationships that start online.

As for online dating in the real world, the industry in Japan grew by 23% in 2020, and is predicted to more than double that growth in the next five years. The pandemic has further tanked Japan’s marriage rate and forced more traditional matchmaking services online, where they are thriving . For the first time ever, online dating is about to be big in Japan – and anime is the perfect medium to represent it, because anime creators aren’t chained to the literal.

Amelia Cook is the founder of Anime Feminist . Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove It is currently streaming on Crunchyroll .

Source: Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove it

Anime News / Granbelm
« on: February 10, 2024, 04:59:21 AM »

By Zoe Crombie.

Have you ever wondered what an anime series that combines the cute slice-of-life antics of magical girls with the spectacular action of giant mechs would look like? If so, then wonder no longer – Granbelm is the series for you, combining these evergreen anime subgenres with a surprising degree of success. Centred around a once-in-a-blue-moon tournament that determines who will be the one to keep the art of practicing magic alive in the modern world, this series has all the spectacle of a Gundam show with the pick-a-favourite fun that a cast of magical girls brings.

From its first episode, Granbelm holds nothing back, starting in media res as our protagonist Mangetsu heads to her school to grab a lunch bag only to stumble into a battle she’s entirely unequipped for between massive yet oddly chibi-fied mechs. Fortunately, she’s saved from magical annihilation at the hands of some bloodthirsty high-schoolers by the brooding Shingetsu, who explains the rules of the world: the winner of the tournament – or, the Princeps Mage of the Granbelm – gains control of the Magiaconatus, which contains all the magic in the world. As Mangetsu investigates her own mysterious connection to the event, she and Shingetsu bond over their lunar-themed names (Full Moon/New Moon), magic training, and determination to win the Granbelm and become a mage.

One of the most appealing elements of anime for those just getting into it is the uniqueness of many of its most popular genres. Unlike American cinema or TV that tends to be divided into comedy, drama, horror, romance, and more, anime is often more hyper-specific, at least in part due to the historical division by age range that’s also a contributing factor in deciding content: the rules aren’t hard and fast, but you’re more likely to find high-octane action in a shonen series, while a shojo series tends more towards personal relationships and melodrama.

That’s what makes Granbelm’s genre experimentation so fascinating – the synthesis of the two goes so much deeper than just moe girls in giant mechs. In fact, the fusing of the two genres is surprisingly smooth; they share tendencies like complex lore, narrative twists and turns, and otherworldly aesthetics, so it makes a surprising amount of sense to see in action. Though the girls each have a magic stone that enables their powers, you could even argue that their dedicated mechs, with names like White Lily and Viola Katze, function as the robotic equivalent of more conventionally magical objects like the wands in Sailor Moon or Cardcaptor Sakura’s cards.

The visuals of Granbelm also do a great job of utilising both of its main genre influences. Coloured with a palette of celestial blues and purples, punctuated by the neon tones of the Armanox mechs, it’s always a pleasure to look at, conveying the feeling of magic and grandeur promised by the plot. Though the character designs are fairly stereotypical, indicating what you’d expect from each girl – the girl with long dark hair is serious, the curvaceous woman is arrogant and brash, and so on – they’re effective nonetheless, with their outfits in particular working well to convey their attitude and motivation in the competition.

While it’s far from being totally self-serious, with a healthy but controlled amount of comedic moments in most episodes, Granbelm has more narrative turns than you may initially expect, with some genuinely shocking twists that play with the tropes of high school anime in particular. Again, this is one of the best parts of this hybrid anime – it doesn’t ride entirely on the novelty of its premise, and is able to craft an engrossing story beyond the promise of cute girls in massive mechs.

Granbelm currently also stands as the only entirely original work by the studio Nexus, who tend to produce adaptations of light novels – they should certainly branch out more often, as this anime reveals a great understanding of the appeal of the mode and the ability to pick and remix some of its more compelling tropes. It’s worth mentioning that it isn’t entirely novel, as the anime series Magic Knight Rayearth was made of a similar genre amalgamation in the early 1990s, but as an anime trying this in the 21st century, it certainly yields different results.

Anime genres are a fertile playground for experimentation even within fairly conventional series, and Granbelm is a fantastic example of this. With compelling characters, engaging mech fights, gorgeous ethereal visuals, and a plot that goes deeper than you may expect, this thirteen episode series tells a grand story in a short package, and is absolutely worth a watch.

Zoe Crombie is an associate lecturer and PhD candidate at Lancaster University working on Studio Ghibli. Granbelm is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

Source: Granbelm

Anime News / Hula Fulla Dance
« on: February 07, 2024, 07:17:29 AM »
Hula Fulla Dance

By Jonathan Clements.

Unsure of what direction to take in life, high-school graduate Hiwa Natsunagi (Haruka Fukuhara) decides to become a professional hula dancer, like her late sister Mari. But she soon begins to wonder if hula dancing is the thing for her, when she proves to be the clumsiest, least hula-competent girl in her team. She does her best to learn how to synchronise with her team, and how to not run onstage with a coat hanger still stuck in her dress, and struggles with her feelings for coach Ryota, soon discovering she is not the only girl who fancies him.

No, don’t you dare suggest this is K-On with grass skirts. All right, you can if you want, as Seiji Mizushima’s Hula Fulla Dance ticks through all the boxes of the well-worn but much-loved genre of a bunch of comedically incapable pretty girls giving it their all until they are a honed unit of rock stars / volley ball players / idol singers / brass band / dustmen, etc. But Hula dancers…? What better way to show off 3DCG motion capture – after the spins and twirls of Love! Live, this anime movie from Bandai Namco Pictures uses that noticeably sinuous and nuanced of dance forms as a new showcase for its animation widgets.

This 2021 film is another spin-off from the Zutto O-en 2011+10 project, a funding initiative set up to push the Japanese prefectures that are still suffering the after-effects of the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake. In other words, in development terms, it sits alongside movies like The House of the Lost on the Cape and Fortune Favours Lady Nikuko , as a little sub-genre of films promoting travel to the Tohoku region. And you thought it was going to be all about Hawaii!

Believe it or not, Fukushima, home of that malfunctioning nuclear reactor we all try to forget about, really does have a holiday location called Spa Resort Hawaiians , where along with all the golf and swimming, visitors get to watch Hawaiian dance shows. The resort began life many years ago as part of another outreach initiative, as a job-creation scheme for local people in 1966 when the Joban Coal Mine began to shut down, a story famously retold in Sang Il-Lee’s live-action film Hula Girls (2006). Ever since, the place once known as the Joban Hawaiian Center (the name was changed in 1990) has been associated in Japan with tiki tourism, a view of Polynesian culture that’s more of a theme park experience about the great Pacific expanse to the east.

On his location hunt at the start of production, chief director Seiji Mizushima went to see the Hawaiians resort for himself, and was impressed to see that it was totally integrated into its local community. “There is a hot spring facility,” he told W Online ,” “so the local uncles and aunties use it every day. There is a free shuttle bus from Yumoto train station to Hawaiians… Many dancers and staff are also local, and they work at Spa Resort Hawaiians as a way to get a job at a local company.”

Mizushima took this local job creation concept to heart, with the somewhat gimmicky insistence on casting voice actors with local connections wherever possible. So, it’s boom-time, presumably, for anyone who has a Fukushima granny. “Miu Tomita [Ranko] is from Fukushima, so I wanted to get her in there. Dean Fujioka [Ryota] was born in Fukushima and willing to take the role. If it had been an ordinary anime job, it would have been like choosing a person with a voice that suits the character by auditioning, but this time, in order to support Tohoku as a whole, people got involved if they had connections to the place.”

Hiwa, of course, has the biggest connections, despite not existing, and today her character has been coopted as a “tourism support personality” at Iwaki in Fukushima, popping up in apps and on the side of buses to tell visitors about all the hula-related fun they can be having. She even got her own Twitter feed @_hiwa0723_ to enthuse about the film and its local connections, although at the time of writing, she doesn’t seem to have Tweeted anything since March 2022. Possibly the appearance of her and her hula girls in Scotland will cause her to spring back to life.

Mizushima instructed his scriptwriter, the ever-reliable Reiko Yoshida to visualise the film as something Masayuki Suo (Shall We Dance / Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t) might have made – that familiar cinema trope of hapless individuals united by an unlikely hobby. But he was also under instructions to present Spa Resort Hawaiians as it really is, not to make up locations or scenes that couldn’t take place in the real-world hotel, causing his staff to rely heavily on video footage he shot on a tense mid-COVID visit. The realism of the work also shines through in occasional moments of background detail, in which the Tohoku region’s troubled past sneaks unobtrusively into the backgrounds. “You can see, as well,” Mizushima says, “the area around the home of the main character, Hiwa, is drawn using reference photographs of the area damaged by the earthquake. You can see that the damaged place has been reconstructed and the embankment has been rebuilt, and indoors you can also see where the house interior has had to be remodelled.”

Nor is it all over when the final credits roll, as Mizushima finally gets the chance to play around with the bit of the film that happens where most audiences are usually filing out to the lobby. It’s something that he has usually ignored, because of the high cost of essentially adding something to the film when it is already officially over. “If you add animation to the end credits, the calories are quite high for production,” he admits, “so I had never been able to do it with my own work. This time, the producer Mr Ito came up with an idea for the end roll, like how about we try something like this? It was great to be able to talk it over with a producer and then get it done. Bonds are one of the themes of this movie, but it is also an episode that felt those bonds on the production side. This movie is like the culmination of my personal connections.”

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History . Hula Fulla Dance is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

Source: Hula Fulla Dance

Anime News / Ascendance of a Bookworm
« on: February 04, 2024, 09:23:01 AM »
Ascendance of a Bookworm

By Andrew Osmond.

Like many fantasy protagonists, the young heroine of Ascendance of a Bookworm is on a desperate mission. But it doesn’t involve melting a ring, slaying a dragon, or facing an invading army. No, her mission is suggested by the title; it’s to read a book in a world where books are as scarce and precious as gold, where she may have to resort to making her own.

Ascendance is one of the anime sub-genre in which a character dies in our world only to be reincarnated in a fantastical one, a genre ranging from the haunting Haibane Renmei to the daft KonoSuba. Bookworm finds its own niche, as a leisurely drama that doesn’t rely on fights or monsters. It often feels very gentle, in the way of those anime that fans label “slice of life.” But there are still high stakes involved, especially as it’s uncertain how long the main character can live.

Like many reincarnation anime, we’re told little about the heroine’s life before her rebirth. Her name was once Urano, she was a Japanese librarian, and she absolutely adored books, on any subject. Then she died in circumstances that the anime leaves ambiguous; the source novels clarify she was killed by the books she loved, buried by them in an earthquake. Her dying prayer was that she could continue reading books in her next life. The prayer goes unanswered.

She wakes in the body of a little girl, Myne, who lives in a pre-industrial, broadly European-looking city. At first you wonder if it’s the past, though later it becomes clear this is another world, with its own form of magic – used, for example, to seal binding contracts -,and distinct life-forms, such as a plant that grows with ferocious speed. There’s nothing, though, that makes living in this world easy. Myne’s family – mum, dad and her slightly older sister – is poor, though they at least have a house to themselves. Worse, Myne’s body is extremely frail, and she’s often subject to fevers that are plainly life-threatening.

But the biggest shock for Myne is that there are practically no books at all. This world has writing, but there’s no printing press, and the few books that exist are massively valuable. In the first episode, Myne is ecstatic to glimpse one, but its merchant owner won’t even let her open it. So Myne now has a driving obsession, to find some way of having a book to hand, even if that means making her own book from scratch.

So she starts inventing, to the bemusement of her kind but supportive family and friends. Luckily, Myne has access to the memories of the “real” Myne, the girl whose body she’s occupying, which helps her fit into her new world. However, there are problems later on when one perceptive person starts noticing how she’s changed. As even paper is too expensive, Myne sets about experimenting with other kinds of materials, taking inspiration from her reading about ancient civilisations. But her experiments often fail, and more than once her materials are destroyed by her family or peers because they don’t know how important they are to her.

All the while, Myne is learning more about the world, but also – unusually for an anime – about her own limits. She collapses often, and her family is always worried about her health. Eventually, she does start having successes, if not with books, then with other “inventions” such as shampoo and pancakes. But this raises more issues, as merchants notice Myne’s talents and start treating her as a commodity. Myne has ideas they want, but she’s still a little girl; they might help her with her book projects, but can she negotiate with them with any strength?

All these problems build tension into the gentle-seeming show. The designs and colours are cheery, and Bookworm plays down most of the harsh realities of what “ordinary” life was like in the past. A more realistic treatment of the subject could look like Grave of the Fireflies; instead, Bookworm often suggests Kiki’s Delivery Service, with the perky Myne battling to make her own way. Most of the characters are kind and decent; Myne’s family are constantly supportive, as are her friends such as the loyal boy Lutz and the cunning girl Freida.

And yet, there’s a pervading sadness to the series. Myne simply has no idea how much time she’s got, let alone if she’ll live to complete any of her audacious plans. Even with loving people around her, and the benefits of a lifetime’s reading in a different world, this world may be too hard for a frail child. Any book-lover knows that the “gentlest” stories can be surrounded by the darkest shadows.

The way that Myne uses her otherworld knowledge to make useful inventions recalls one of the oldest time-travel stories, Mark Twain’s satirical A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). Meanwhile, Myne’s love of books makes her distinctly old-fashioned among anime characters. Like Keiichi Hara’s Birthday Wonderland , Bookworm might be a reaction against the avalanche of fantasy anime that use all the gamified tropes of console RPGs. Then again, maybe not. Throughout the anime, there are cute little cartoon cutaways of Myne looking very like a game character battling through the levels.

Bookworm isn’t the first story to present separation from books as the ultimate hell, worse than the end of the world. One of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes, “Time Enough at Last,” was about a man who longs for more time for reading. He’s in the vault of the bank where he works when there’s a catastrophe; he emerges to find civilisation obliterated by a nuclear war, with himself as the sole survivor. But he has canned food, and books, which have survived in the local library. Time enough, indeed! But the man has just piled up all the books he’ll read when he breaks his glasses and is left practically blind, sobbing “That’s not fair!” Even Myne couldn’t have invented her way out of that one.

Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films . Ascendance of a Bookworm is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

Source: Ascendance of a Bookworm

Anime News / Shirobako
« on: February 01, 2024, 11:46:10 AM »

By Andrew Osmond.

Shirobako opens… misleadingly, actually. Its first minutes show an animation high-school club where five close-knit girls are making their own anime mini-epic. Once that’s been done, they promise each other, they’ll join up again to make something else. And then… the story skips forward two and a half years. Two of the friends, now young adults, are working at the same Tokyo studio, but their friendship isn’t the focus. Instead, there are loads more characters for us to meet. There are naïve newbies, and veterans who can be genial or forbidding, and they all have their own issues and conflicts. This is the adult world of anime, way more complex than a high-school club.

Shirobako is mostly set in an anime studio, Musashino Animation. The studio is fictional, but Musashino is a part of central Tokyo, and it’s home to several real studios, including Production I.G and the studio it grew from, Tatsunoko. In Shirobako, we see the staff struggle to make TV anime through the eyes of young Aoi Miyamori. Once she was the leader of the school club. Now she’s just a production assistant, which means she’s racing around the various departments, trying to liaise between people who can be very, very hard to deal with, while the clock’s always ticking down to deadline.

Aoi can occasionally grab a drink with Ema, her former clubmate who’s also at Musashino as a rookie animator. They’re joined by their other former clubmates, who offer glimpses into other sides of anime. There’s Misa (“Mii”) who works at a CG studio; Shizuka, a struggling voice actor; and Midori (“Rii”) who’s a university student and budding writer. But other characters are just as important, including the high-strung, childlike director Kinoshita, on whom so much depends, and his production manager Honda, who must physically force Kinoshita in the right direction. At first these men are visually linked by their tubbiness, though eventually that changes.

The 24-part series covers Musashino’s production of two different anime – one an original show, and the other adapted from a popular manga. As you can guess, each kind of production throws up its own curveballs, although there are some similarities between them. For example, one of the worst tortures for everyone is getting the end of the series right.

Today, many Anglophone anime fans are savvy about the industry’s production process. That’s largely due to the rise of sakuga fan commentary – fans who break down a piece of animation into the individual shots and movements, and celebrate the many artists behind them, often translating Japanese sources or interviewing creators themselves. As of writing, the prominent English-language sakuga sites include sakugabooru, and Animétudes , all well worth visiting.

For readers less familiar with anime’s production, some basic terminology is handy. For instance, a “cours” refers to a three-month TV season. As used in Japan, a “cut” is what we call a shot, rather than the end of a shot. Then there’s a lot of talk of “key” and “keyframe” animation, alternatively written “key frame.” These are the frames of animation that shape and define movements on screen, and passages of movement too. These bits of animation can be simple, or bogglingly complex. The frames of movement that connect key frames are called “in-betweens” (or tweens for short). The convention is that experienced animators will draw keyframes, while beginner animators supply in-betweens.

Anime doesn’t start with the animation, though. Before that, it’s drawn as a comic-strip style storyboard – this may be done by the anime’s director, though that’s not always the case. (Storyboards are sometimes made available as extras on anime home releases, or else they’re published as thick books in Japan.) In Shirobako, the director Kinoshita does indeed do the storyboards, and the agony of drawing them is a big part of the early episodes. After the storyboards, there’s the layout stage. Layouts are visual guides to the animators and background artists, showing where characters will be placed in a scene, the details of camera movements, directions on action, and so on.

It might all sound dry in the abstract. Shirobako, though, dramatises the process by showing the artists struggling to get it right – for instance, we see the devastating effect on the newbie animator Ema when her key animation is rejected. That judgment is made by an animation director (AD), a woman freelancer called Segawa who’s quietly brilliant, though we’ve already seen how thin she’s spread. In part one, the Musashino staff beg her to draw a heap of keyframes at the last minute after a botch-up. Rough keyframes will do, they say, but Segawa’s not having that. She’ll do them right, or not at all.

Is that about having professional integrity? Or is Segawa being childishly precious about “her” bit of a group enterprise? That question will mushroom later, when one of the studio’s production team openly scorns artists who won’t wave through work fast and want it done better. Shirobako is built on such conflicts. For instance, there’s a male animator called Ryosuke who walks out of the studio in high dudgeon when he hears that a cut (or shot) that he was preparing, involving lovely, lovely explosions, will be made in CG instead.

Anime is about more than just the visuals. We get look-ins at the colouring department, and at the people who tirelessly provide all those footsteps and door-slams that you don’t register consciously, but would miss instantly if they were gone. As for voice-acting, that gets its own running strand as we follow the struggles of Aoi’s friend Shizuka to get a voice part, her confidence shaken by every stumble. There’s a scene where she’s with a bunch of other actors to provide voices for a background crowd (what’s called a “walla group” in America). But Shizuka tries too hard, shouts too loud and humiliates herself. If she can’t be a decent voice in a crowd, what hope is there for her as a voice actor?

Later on (part 14), the voice-actor strand brings in a bitingly sardonic portrait of a production committee. Those are the company sponsors who’ve invested in an anime series and expect their due returns. One sponsor rep insists the lead must be voiced by a singer who can pump out tie-in songs. Another wants the heroine to be voiced by a sexy model who can do live events and bikini shoots, and so on. In the second half of the series, Musashino Animation adapts a popular manga, which is hugely prestigious. But it leaves the studio at the mercy of the manga’s powerful and inaccessible creator, who can capriciously veto what the studio’s done and throw everyone into chaos.

While names are fictionalised to protect the innocent (and guilty), some of the anime’s references are obvious. For example, in part 6 two rival animators bond over their common love of a classic robot anime called Idepon. That’s modelled on Space Runaway Ideon, an epic 1982 anime space opera that was apocalyptic even by anime standards. It was created by Yoshiyuki Tomino, the father of Gundam. Shiraboko episode 12 sees the appearance of an industry legend whose identity will be instantly obvious to many readers – even his name is only a letter away from the real one. The only pity is he’s not voiced by the real person, who’s done anime voice-acting elsewhere. No, it’s not Miyazaki, though there’s a hilarious Miyazaki gag worked in too.

One of the most important episodes, though, is part 19. Aoi is taken by her genial studio president, Marukawa, to a shuttered old studio where he worked decades ago. It’s a tribute to a bygone age when CG was just sci-fi and everyone worked with physical paints and plastic cels, making masterworks to inspire future generation. Judging by the “vintage” animation that we see, the old studio was operating in the 1970s, maybe even the 1960s, when it made a wonderful cartoon about a brave Alpine hedgehog, smacking of Heidi and The Moomins. If only it had been real! As for Marukawa, his name’s a giveaway. He’s surely based on Masao Maruyama, who’s been in anime since in the 1960s, co-founding Madhouse in 1972 and founding MAPPA in 2011.

These references are just the start. For a far deeper dive, there’s an article by Kevin Cirugeda on the sakugabooru site, called “Shirobako’s Secrets .” Among other things, Cirugeda reports how the childlike director Kinoshita was cheekily modelled on Seiji Mizushima, who directed such 2000s shows as the first Fullmetal Alchemist and Gundam 00. As for a crazy piece of animation in Shirobako part 12 – it involves police cars, flying, and lots and lots of horses – that was actually guest-drawn by Toshiyuki Inoue, who’s animated everything in his time from Kusangi diving down a building (Ghost in the Shell) to a little witch in flight (Kiki’s Delivery Service).

Shirobako is an upbeat series, showing Musashino Studio rising in the industry. That’s surely a little self-promotion on the part of Shirobako’s real studio P.A. Works (which is not based in Musahino but outside Tokyo, in the mountainous Toyama prefecture). Founded in 2000, P.A. Works spent its early years doing below-the-line support work, before breaking out with shows like the exuberantly tragic Angel Beats! (2010).

Since then, P.A. Works has had made a wide range of work, from the heartrending fantasy film Maquia to the delightful 2023 school show Skip and Loafer. But one strong running strand for the studio has been its “workplace” anime, about people in grounded jobs. P.A.Works has made the series Hanasaku Iroha, set in an onsen inn; Sakura Quest, about a tourist board striving to promote a remote village; The Aquatope on White Sand, about an seaside aquarium in Okinawa; and the 2023 film Komada: A Whiskey Family, about a distillery. Sliding in among them, Shirobako isn’t just about the rise of an anime studio, but the rise of the studio which made Shirobako.

One last issue is raised by the show’s title. “Shirobako” means “white box”; in the industry, it refers to the box that carries the physical copy of a completed animation, usually a TV episode. Once these would have been videotapes, though when a “shirobako” box is glimpsed in part 3 of the series, it’s plainly for a disc. A digital file is one thing, but a tape or a disc is concrete proof of a studio’s efforts.

Indeed, Shirobako shows the perils of assuming that everything is digital now. In an early episode, a server goes down at a crucial moment, meaning vital data can’t be sent and a hard drive must be couriered to Tokyo from an outsourced studio in the sticks. The series goes further, though. At the climax, there’s a madcap scene where characters are taking tapes (not discs) of a finished episode and rushing them to broadcast studios around Japan, by plane, train and automobile. This isn’t because of a network meltdown. Rather, the script indicates, the broadcasters need the episode in a physical format. (There was a similar situation in the “Mellow Maromi” episode of Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent, though that was ten years before Shirobako.)

Viewers may be befuddled. Even when Shirobako was shown in 2014, wouldn’t an anime studio just send episodes to broadcasters’ hard drives? Actually, Japanese TV stations were using betacam tapes (with material in digibeta form) as a standard format until at least 2011, when the facility making those tapes in the city of Sendai was damaged in the catastrophic Tohoku earthquake.Granted, Shirobako may have been using a little dramatic licence, and shifting the clock back a few years.

The show’s last episodes also include hilarious excursions into “anime” reality, such as a crucial creative meeting in a high-rise building that plays like Sergio Leone meets Shonen Jump. As for the mad rush to get the tapes to the TV stations, it enters Charlie Kaufman territory. Even while you enjoy the climax, you’ll be clocking the huge number of shots and backgrounds and characters and thinking how exhausting it all must have been to make. Behind any artistic licence, perhaps this is the reality of the anime industry that P.A. Works wanted to show, as frenzied as any car chase.

Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films . Shirobako is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

Source: Shirobako

Anime News / Blue Giant: Yuzuru Tachikawa Interview
« on: January 29, 2024, 01:33:38 PM »
Blue Giant: Yuzuru Tachikawa Interview

By Andrew Osmond.

The film Blue Giant opens in UK cinemas this Wednesday. It’s a music drama about the fortunes of three teen boys in Tokyo – sax player prodigy Dai, haughty pianist Yukinori, and greenhorn drummer Tamada – trying to make it as a jazz trio. You can read more about Blue Giant’s story here , while there are details of the UK screenings here .

In the run-up to the film’s opening, I interviewed Blue Giant’s director Yuzuru Tachikawa when he visited London. Before Blue Giant, Tachikawa was best-known for his stint on the acclaimed TV action-comedy anime Mob Psycho 100. He also created the short film, “Death Billiards,” about trials in the afterlife, which was the basis for his later TV series Death Parade. Tachikawa’s other credits include Deca-Dence, an SF series with some very unexpected developments, and he was also Assistant Director on Shinichiro Watanabe’s Terror in Residence, as mentioned in the interview.

I’d like to start by asking about the big “performance” sequences in Blue Giant. They’re very fast, with a dizzying number of shots, some almost subliminally quick, and they’re very different kinds of shots from each other. How much work it takes to create that kind of sequence?

There were actually three of us who did those storyboards for the live performances. We did one piece to start with, as a test run. And there were a lot of shots, and we realised that if we storyboarded them all in the same way, it would be too long. There would be way too many shots. So we needed to adjust that and have a balance between the longer shots and the shorter ones.

Is it true that those sequences used both motion capture and also rotoscoping (animation traced from live-action)?

That is correct. And the reason that I needed both those techniques was firstly because we had created the space (for these scenes) in 3D. And so with the camera work in the 3D space, I also needed the characters to be 3D, which is where motion capture came into it. Rotoscoping, animating based off live-action videos, was more for the close-ups on the expressions and the fine detail.

The late director Satoshi Kon once said that in animation there’s less unnecessary detail, but it’s possible to communicate information faster than in live-action, in terms of the speed of the shots. Would you agree?

Maybe if what he meant is that in live-action, there’s a lot more information on the screen, whereas with animation, you can hone in and focus on what you want to say – if that’s what he meant, then I would agree with that.

Regarding the three main boys in the film, are any of them are types that you’ve met in real life; for example, in high school, or working in anime?

I’ve never met anyone as strong and single-minded as Dai. I’ve met people similar to Yukinori and Tamada, while working.

I have to ask about the scene where Dai and Yukinori first meet, and there’s a brief misunderstanding. It’s very funny, and for a moment you wonder if the story will turn into Boy’s Love. Was it the same in the manga?

It’s more or less the same as the manga. But in the film Dai approaches Yukinori to ask to if they can play together, whereas in the manga it’s the other way round and Yukinori asks Dai.

There have been a couple of previous animations that have depicted jazz performances – Shinichiro Watanabe’s series Kids on the Slope and the Pixar film Soul. Did you look at either for inspiration, or did you deliberately avoid watching them?

I’ve watched both. I worked under Watanabe as an assistant director on Terror in Residence. And I love Cowboy Bebop, and I also love Pixar movies.

I think what stands out with the performance scenes in Blue Giant are the solos, the expressionist abstract nature of those scenes, which I don’t think you had in Soul or Kids on the Slope. With Blue Giant, what I’ve tried to put on the screen is what the players are seeing in that moment.

When you see Dai practising his saxophone, he’s often playing outside next to water. Why did you show him this way?

That stood out for me in the manga – the fact that Dai would practice by this nameless river in Sendai [where he grew up]. And apparently it’s better to practice with a saxophone in an open space, rather than in a room. It makes the sound resonate more and it allows you to “grow” your sound, and I thought that was quite fitting for the character.

(The next question involves a story spoiler.) I want to ask about a central scene where the pianist Yukinori has a meeting which goes badly, and destroys his self-confidence. What kind of effect were you aiming for with this scene?

Yukinori is someone who wants to win. And the (piano) solos that he has always played are ones that he knows are going to be winners. And that’s how he chooses to play, and also in his past, there’s this young girl that he’s known who had to give up playing. He knows that there are certain conditions that enable you to be able to carry on playing, and hence he wants to be on the winning side. He’s very handsome, he looks like a winner… but this is the moment where he is brought down and experiences despair.

And this is in contrast, of course, to Dai, who when he’s playing has no thought of winning or losing. He just wants to express his emotion through music.

In general, I thought the animation of the three boys feels very physical, in the way they move the heads when talking, for example. They reminded me a little of the boys in Akira, in terms of their designs and physicality. Can you comment on that?

I’m honoured that you think that. I was very aware that these were three teenage boys, these protagonists, and I wanted that to come across. I wanted to give them that teenage feel, so if that does come across, then I’m glad of that.

It also struck me as a very big contrast with one of your previous anime, Mob Psycho 100, where the main character Mob is usually a very quiet boy. Did it feel good to go from one extreme to the other?

Well, for different projects, you have different characters, and they bring out different feelings. And it’s certainly more fun to work on different projects with different kinds of characters.

Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films . Blue Giant is in cinemas across the UK on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

Source: Blue Giant: Yuzuru Tachikawa Interview

Anime News / Books: I Could Never be a Succubus
« on: January 26, 2024, 04:07:17 AM »
Books: I Could Never be a Succubus

By Shelley Pallis.

The story of I Could Never be a Succubus begins with a striking Gotterdammerung, as a bold hero and an evil demon lord fight for their lives in a burning castle. But this is not one-on-one, the hero is the leader of a stereotypical party of adventurers, and the adversary soon realises that the lynchpin is the powerful sorceress who is flinging distracting illusions at him. He directs all his evil powers at killing her, but even as he delivers a mortal blow, the plucky witch (incongruously called Liz), manages to land a game-changing blow on him.

With a wrench not unfamiliar in light novels, we are suddenly at a magical high school, where a student called Lisalinde excels at all the wizarding classes. She is a popular girl in the school, until the fateful day when a visiting party of adventurers addresses the student body, and she asks their leader for his underpants.

Liz, for it is she, has lost her memory. Which means she has no recollection of her dungeon adventuring days, or indeed of the source of her powers, which turns out to be a distant, demonic ancestry. Somewhere, deep down, Lisalinde the straight-A student is descended from a succubus, and she is kind of horny.

Once again, thank you, Japan, for taking these paragraphs places nobody could have predicted. I Could Never be a Succubus by Nora Kohigashi manages the remarkable achievement of crashing Harry Potter into a bawdy session of Dungeons & Dragons, imagining a heroine who suddenly discovers that she cannot help the erotic feelings bubbling inside her. Kohigashi’s comedy is a winning satire on teenage angst, crossed with a little Zennial hobbyism, as a girl with a vague past in dungeon-bashing finds herself struggling to manage overwhelming hormonal desires.

Sadly, it also suffers the afflictions of many a light novel – placeholder names, hand-wavy world-building, and an authorial inability to stick to a single register. So, sometimes we have Liz’s first-person account of her tribulations, and sometimes an omniscient narrator pops up to deliver massive and unnecessary infodumps. Nevertheless, Liz is soon back on the adventuring trail, joyfully reclaiming her slutty roots as a girl who just can’t get enough, and putting it to use in a series of encounters where she snogs, strips and sashays her way into an erotic adventure.

However, her adventuring chums don’t see it quite the same way, and repeatedly head off her activities in order to stop them becoming the opening scenes of a manga issueo film. I don’t know about you, but I think succubi should be allowed to do what they do best, otherwise it’s just a frustrating series of set-ups for sex scenes that never happen!

Roy Nukia’s translation is oddly eloquent, going far beyond what I assume to be a relatively low pay grade to employ terms like “pitch-black”, “atavism” and “astir”, all in the service of a story that very much hopes to be Carry on Dungeoning, but repeatedly relies upon the reader to imagine what might be just about to happen. Which is all very well, but I can do that at home.

I Could Never Be a Succubus is published in English by J-Novel Club.

Source: Books: I Could Never be a Succubus

Anime News / Lonely Castle in the Mirror
« on: January 23, 2024, 06:08:14 AM »
Lonely Castle in the Mirror

By Shelley Pallis.

Kokoro (Ami Touma) has a name that means “heart”, but feels that hers is constantly being stamped on. Mean girls at school make her life so difficult, that eventually she gives up altogether, and stays home with an alleged stomach-ache. Lying on her bed and feeling sorry for herself, she discovers that her bedroom mirror is a portal to mysterious castle, perched atop a rocky islet on a savage sea, where she finds herself on a staircase with six other teenagers. The masked girl known only as The Wolf Queen (Mana Ashida) tells them that they have been selected for the ultimate game – they have a year to explore the castle, and whoever finds a hidden magical key will have a wish granted. Oh, and if anyone breaks the rules of the game, they’ll get eaten.

“I think that kids today have a lot of issues to deal with in the world, and by using fantasy I was hoping to redirect that negativity to a better place,” director Keiichi Hara told Carlyle Edmundson at Screen Rant . “So yeah, recognizing that there is the negativity and the issues that exist in the world, and then bringing it to a positive place.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the set-up for Mizuki Tsujimura’s original novel of Lonely Castle in the Mirror was the same as a zillion other children’s books, all the way back to Narnia. And there is certainly a symbolic, modernist element in the way that her teens find solace and companionship with a bunch of strangers in a remote, after-school game, as if they’d all met up slaughtering each other in Call of Duty online. But the long, long game at the Lonely Castle encourages a very different approach – as time marches on, the various troubled teens come to realise that they are getting more out of hanging out together than they are chasing around after a magic key.

“As a student, [Tsujimura] hated school,” Hara explained to Richard Eisenbeis at the Anime News Network . “She felt that she couldn’t enjoy school like every other kid.” Hara explained, “Yet all of her books are set in schools. And when a reader pointed that out, Tsujimura said that she thought she was probably rewriting the school days she wished she had.”

It becomes particularly poignant when the Wolf Queen reveals that once the wish is granted, the other six gamers will lose all their memories of their time in the castle.

You, Dear Reader, might wish that you could wipe away all memories of having sat through a series of Big Brother, but for Tsujimura’s teens, the social network they form by exploring the castle becomes much more valuable to them than any possible wish…. Or does it? It would only take one of them to actually play the Wolf Queen’s game, and all their adventures would be forgotten.

This is by no means the first fantasy anime from the team of director Keiichi Hara and write Miho Maruo, whom SLA attendees may remember from their appearance in Scotland to unveil Miss Hokusai in 2015. They also have form in the melancholy genre, with their under-rated Colorful getting its UK premiere at SLA in 2011 . In a fantasy film environment starved of Ghibli for multiple years, they also showcased their Birthday Wonderland in Scotland in 2019 – Lonely Castle shares with Wonderland a designer in the shape of Ilya Kuvshinov, who is credited with the architecture of the castle itself. Like that film, Lonely Castle is an adaptation from a novel, conspicuously tapping into the concerns of the shut-ins and truants that seemingly form a sizeable component of anime’s Japanese audience. There aren’t a whole lot of anime that deal with the school bullies (although A Silent Voice is a notable exception) – instead it’s their victims that get all the movie attention, those kids who are afraid to go to school or feel that they get more out of life after-hours than they do in the midst of the approved curriculum. Before the anime was released, a manga adaptation of Tsujimura’s novel also ran in Ultra Jump, prepping the teenagers of Japan for a trip to the cinema.

Hara himself picks out a quote from Tsujimura that goes right to the heart of her work’s appeal: “When it comes to your bullies, there’s no need to forgive them.” The Japanese school system would rather play touchy-feely politics, and shrug off the effect that bullies have on their victims, but Tsujimura’s comment has an anger to it that recalls the work of Mariko Ohara – another famous truant, who parleyed her school absences into an anime-writing career.

“As a film director,” says Hara, “I really want to help these kids change how they feel. Rather than going out and changing the school system administratively, I’ve been given the chance – and the opportunity and the skills – to create anime. And that’s the medium through which I can help children to see things differently… Using fantasy as our platform, we’re trying to show through these kids that there is hope.”

Lonely Castle in the Mirror is screening around the UK as part of the Japan Foundation’s nationwide touring festival in February 2024.

Source: Lonely Castle in the Mirror

Anime News / Books: Ghibli and Grief
« on: January 20, 2024, 08:45:50 AM »
Books: Ghibli and Grief

By Zoe Crombie.

As one of, if not the, most popular anime studio in the world, Studio Ghibli has attracted attention from academics, authors, and journalists globally – most recently, the book Now Go: Grief and Studio Ghibli explores the studio in a fresh and highly individual way. Relating much of Ghibli’s oeuvre to personal experiences of grief and loss, this book serves as a more subjective interpretation of the studio’s artistic power.

One of the reasons that Studio Ghibli’s oeuvre has become so globally popular is that its films are open and unique enough to be interpreted in a myriad of ways by viewers from all walks of life. Though some views certainly crop up more frequently – appreciations of their delicious looking food or strong female protagonists, for instance – others are less common, such as the topic addressed by journalist Karl Thomas Smith in his short, sweet, and highly personal book.

Now Go: Grief and Studio Ghibli is a new release from the indie publisher 404 Ink for their Inklings series, predicated on ‘big ideas’ in ‘pocket sized books’. These aren’t strictly texts on films or media alone – one explores queer Greek myths while another investigates the complex identities of adult adoptees, for instance – and this diversity can also be found in Smith’s own book. Part anime analysis and part personal essay, he provides an approach to the studio that emphasises the emotional connection many have to their films over a more rigorous exploration of their influences, history and techniques.

By looking at various Ghibli texts, Smith theorises a range of approaches to grief, ranging from global responses to natural devastation in environmental parables like Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind to the kinds of grief found in even more child-oriented movies like My Neighbour Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service. Primarily, this book emphasises that the concept of ‘grief’ isn’t nearly as simple as it’s often made out to be, and that films from directors like Hayao Miyazaki understand this, basing their fantastical texts in a world of complex emotional realism.

However, the central thread that ties all of these ideas together is Smith’s own experiences of grief – specifically, the death of his grandfather, his first encounter with mortality that ultimately contributed to demons he would experience later in life. Reminiscences relating to this fraught time in his life are woven throughout the majority of the book, and it’s easy to see how Ghibli viewing experiences can be tinted by this lens. In this sense, then, the book inherently encourages you to consider your own relationship with the studio, maybe more so than any other book you can find that discuss their films in a more objective sense.

There’s some great food for thought in each of the chapters of this book, and thankfully Smith never takes the easy way out in simply identifying ‘dark’ themes in Ghibli movies. For example, he doesn’t just focus on emotionally heavier texts like Grave of the Fireflies and outright rejects the played-out idea of Totoro as a Shinigami (God of death) leading the children to their doom. However, while part of the appeal of the book lays in its short length, it does feel as though certain texts or ideas could have been elaborated upon further – there is little to no mention of the life-giving and death-bringing capabilities of Princess Mononoke’s benevolent yet fundamentally unknowable forest spirit, which I found to be a missed opportunity.

Though unique for its personal approach among a sea of books on the studio that function more as guides, histories, or analyses, this is simultaneously its greatest strength and something of a weakness for the book. While it allows for beautiful musings on Smith’s own experiences and distinctive readings of characters like Kaonashi (No-Face) from Spirited Away as avatars of grief, it can also lead to sections that ramble somewhat, as though the author is himself working out these complicated feelings on the page. Minor errors in spelling and grammar at several points also contribute to this issue. Nonetheless, while this writing style may prove divisive, I imagine it will be especially poignant for those who have recently gone through anything similar.

An interesting Grave of the Fireflies-esque chaser for the other major non-academic Ghibli book released this year – Ghibliotheque’s child-friendly The World of Studio Ghibli Now Go is a unique entry into the pantheon of writing on the studio. As a humble release that can be devoured by enthusiastic readers in an hour or so, this is worth picking up for any fans of Ghibli – especially as you’ll be supporting an upcoming indie publisher in the process.

Zoe Crombie is an associate lecturer and PhD candidate at Lancaster University working on Studio Ghibli. Now Go: Grief and Studio Ghibli is available now from 404 Ink.

Source: Books: Ghibli and Grief

Anime News / Patlabor XIII
« on: January 17, 2024, 10:33:31 AM »
Patlabor XIII

By Andrew Osmond.

The film’s title card reads, “Patlabor Movie 3.” The functional name is in line with the previous Patlabor films – and at least this one has an extra tag, “Wasted XIII” – but it’s the most misleading part of the movie. Released in 2001, eight years after Patlabor 2, Wasted XIII isn’t a sequel to the earlier Patlabor films in any true sense. Even calling it a spin-off invites confusion. It’s best to see this film as an adjunct to the wider Patlabor multimedia franchise – if anything, its closest link is to the manga of Patlabor, as I’ll explain.

Made by a different studio and creative team from the other films, Wasted XIII is crucially not about the characters in the other Patlabors – the SV2 (Special Vehicles) Unit, including Noa, Shinohara, Ota and Goto. All of these characters do make appearances, but only for a few minutes of screen time, and mainly in the last minutes. The same goes for the Patlabor mecha, though in fairness they were marginalised in the earlier films as well. The main characters in Wasted XIII are two detectives, but neither of them is Detective Matsui, who appeared in the previous films.

The film does retain the background of (more or less) present day Tokyo Bay, and the story is another combo of police procedural and mystery. The two detectives are the youthful Hata, first seen playing baseball, and the senior Kusumi, who relies on a crutch. Both are single (Kusumi is divorced), though Hata gives a lift to an attractive woman professor early on and is plainly interested in her. The case begins with Labor construction vehicles being mysteriously attacked around the Bay, the machines destroyed, their operators… Well, there’s not much left of them, as if they were eaten.

By now, most readers will already know what kind of film this is. It’s an old-fashioned monster movie, soon confirmed in an extended action set-piece that leaves us in no doubt that the monster’s real, huge and hungry. The monster action feels very much like an homage to a classic film, and that doesn’t mean Godzilla. Wasted XIII is more reminiscent of an American film which helped to inspire Godzilla, 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. That had a huge creature lurking in the deep, eating submersibles and knocking down lighthouses, before it finally takes on New York. Unlike Godzilla, the Beast was an animated creature, created in stop-motion by the legendary Ray Harryhausen.

The existence of the monster means that Wasted XIII really doesn’t feel like Patlabor the Movie or Patlabor 2. Both of those were grounded techno-thrillers and conspiracy pieces; beside them, Wasted XIII doesn’t feel like it’s in the same timeline. The closest the film comes to its predecessors is in an early sequence where Hata and Kasumi comb the harbour area for clues, talking to locals and ending up at a derelict stadium that may play a big role later. Otherwise, watching Wasted XIII after Patlabor 2 is like following Dirty Harry with Q – The Winged Serpent. They have obvious overlaps, but they still feel so different.

But then Patlabor has always encompassed multiple timelines. Mamoru Oshii, who directed the first two Patlabor films, also directed a hunt-the-monster Patlabor story called “The 450-Million-Year-Old Trap” (it was part of the video series Patlabor: The Early Years). Whereas Oshii’s cinema Patlabors were totally sober, this yarn was a complete and utter leg-pull, with a wonderfully loony punchline.

Wasted XIII is not a leg-pull, playing its monster action with complete seriousness. Its direct source isn’t Oshii’s video but a straighter monster storyline that ran in the Patlabor manga. It was created by Masami Yuki, one of the original members of the “Headgear” team that conceived the Patlabor franchise. The manga story had many elements that were kept in the Wasted XIII film, though unlike the film it was centred on Patlabor’s regular characters

The first Patlabor movie was animated by Studio Deen and a fledgling Production I.G. which was called I.G Tatsunoko back then. Production I.G took over for Patlabor 2, but it was a collaborating studio on the first film, Madhouse, which would handle Wasted XIII. It premiered at the Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival in 2001; the same year, Madhouse also released Metropolis and Millennium Actress.

Visually at least, Wasted XIII feels broadly consistent with its predecessors. The endless real-world details comprise a kind of photo-realism that doesn’t rely on CGI. One thing the film lacks is its predecessors’ sense of season; the first Patlabor film was set in sweltering summer, the second in crisp winter. However, Madhouse makes its mark with the extended action set-pieces, involving the ravening monster and the humans fleeing in terror. The action in the first two films largely used machines; Wasted XIII’s action feels fleshy, organic.

The new film’s characters were designed by Hiroki Takagi, who’d previously animated on Patlabor for TV and video. He also designed the characters for the anime of Dominion Tank Police and was a key animator on Akira and Project A-Ko. (He died in 2018.) The film was directed by Fumihiko Takayama, best known for directing SF video miniseries such as Orguss 02 and the Gundam spinoff War in the Pocket.

A big point of continuity with the earlier films was the return of musician Kenji Kawai, creating the same ambience of mellowness and melancholy. Since his work on the first two Patlabor films, not to mention all the other Patlabor anime for TV and video, Kawai had become far better known internationally for scoring Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell and the live-action Ringu.

Wasted XIII’s main woman character – the professor that Detective Hata likes, called Saeko – is voiced in Japanese by Atsuko Tanaka, who Japanese viewers knew as the dub voice of Nicole Kidman but who anime fans knew as Kusanagi, heroine of Ghost in the Shell. Meanwhile, the young Hata is voiced in Japanese by Hiroaki Hirata. Whereas in this film he’s a naïve rookie, a decade later he would make a far more seasoned figure his own – the loveable single-dad superhero Tiger in Tiger & Bunny.

Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films . Patlabor XIII is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

Source: Patlabor XIII

Anime News / Patlabor 2
« on: January 14, 2024, 01:00:12 PM »
Patlabor 2

By Andrew Osmond.

The first Patlabor film is an excellent cerebral thriller. Patlabor 2 The Movie , though, is an artistic statement. Thirty years old, it’s still the anime that feels the most like live-action. It’s only tangentially a mecha film, with the title Patlabors on screen for a fraction of the running time. This is really a film about terrorism, and terror’s effects on a “developed” country, eight yearsbefore 9/11. Like Ghost in the Shell, it’s a conspiracy thriller with arthouse leanings. But it’s also memorable for a charged forbidden-love subplot, which adds so much to its beauty.

As in the first Patlabor film, Tokyo comes under an oblique threat, a mindgame. A bridge is destroyed by a missile that flies out of nowhere; a phantom plane causes panic in Tokyo’s airspace. The Patlabor characters are approached by a security insider, a comically sinister-looking agent called Arakawa, looking like a sneering vampire. He’s the film’s Deep Throat informant about what’s going on, and he wants the Patlabor team to investigate privately.

To be precise, Arakawa consults the team’s captains, Goto and Shinobu. Fans of Patlabor will be familiar with these two’s professional relationship, and the teases that it could go further. A year before Patlabor 2, there was a memorable video Patlabor episode (part of Patlabor: The New Files), in which Goto and Shinobu must spend the night together at a love hotel, though the story veered between tantalising and creepy. The pair’s portrait in Patlabor 2 is subtler. Early on, there’s a gem of a scene when Shinobu rages at Goto for going behind his back, with Goto looking hilariously childish as he tries to mollify her.

But this is a film about grown-ups. In 2002, Oshii said, “I find that I’m no longer much interested in female characters that are younger than thirty.” His comment also seems to apply to males. The film starts by cheekily misleading Patlabor fans. Following a pre-title prologue, we spend several minutes with the youngsters Noa and Shinohara, who usually take the leads in the Patlabor stories. But in Patlabor 2, they’re quickly relegated to bit-part duties, with only a few more scenes – and one of those scenes shows Noa resolving to be more grown up.

At the same time, the grown-ups can’t forget their youth. The big shock in the story is what it reveals about Captain Shinobu, who we’ve always respected for her coolheaded leadership. Now we learn that when she was younger, Shinobu was a star member of a Labor R&D team. There she had a forbidden relationship… with her married teacher, Tsuge, whom Arakawa claims is behind the Tokyo attacks.

While technically a subplot, this strand gives Patlabor 2 its beating heart. Oshii’s later Ghost in the Shell would have yearning frissons between Kusanagi and the Puppet Master, but Patlabor 2 serves up full-blooded film noir romance. As in Ghost, one of Patlabor 2’s most exquisite sequences takes place on a canal. Shinobu takes a boat through a snow-specked night, until she sees her quarry. Her expression remains impassive, but a train runs in the background behind her, its lighted windows opening her soul. Then Shinobu points a gun and shouts for Tsuge to stop, her voice ringing with desperation. It’s one of the most romantically charged cinema moments in anime.

It’s exquisite, but there are other rich sequences. One is a hushed, lyrical wordless interlude where tanks and soldiers are stationed in Tokyo to guard the city. Tokyo is defamiliarised; each shot becomes a study in incongruity because of the military’s inescapable presence in the frame. Yet we see daily urban life continue around this occupation. Finally there is soft-falling snow, anticipating the rain in Ghost.

The soldiers may be Japanese, but this sequence conjures memories of Japan’s occupation by American military from 1945 to 1952, and its legacy of the American army bases dotted around Japan. There was similar “Occupation” imagery in 1988’s Akira and 1969’s The Flying Ghost Ship; in the latter anime, massive tanks smash the cars of terrified civilians. But the situation in Patlabor 2 is framed as an object lesson to the audience. How would you respond to a “terror” crisis, and would your reactions only make the situation worse?

Oshii’s scenario is the grim antithesis of a film like Mamoru Hosoda’s 2009 Summer Wars. In Hosoda’s film, Japan is thrown into chaos when an A.I. programme wreaks havoc with the nation’s infrastructure – exactly the kind of situation Oshii loves. However, Hosoda has Japan being protected by a wise, elderly, influential matriarch with a samurai spirit, who marshals Japan’s leaders, old and young, to fight the enemy. In Patlabor 2, Tsuge’s attacks teach the reverse lesson. Japan’s leaders can only escalate the crisis, immersed in their power play and blinkered strategies.

Again, Shinobu is used to advance the film’s case. There’s a long scene where she browbeats her own all-male superiors in a conference room, and it’s terrific. It’s like the more openly sexy tongue-lash in Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, where the icy woman scientist Chiba lays into the geek genius Tokita: “Just indulge in your freakish masturbation!” Just moments after the browbeating, Shinobu is smacking black-suited men down in an elevator. By Oshii’s standards, it’s wondrously crowdpleasing.

But there’s one more important sequence in the film that’s very different, and arguably represents the real Oshii. It’s abstract, there’s a didactic monologue, and it takes the film far outside what we’d expect from a thriller. It involves Goto travelling to headquarters on a speedboat, travelling through Patlabor’s familiar setting of Tokyo Bay… although it’s an exceptionally bleak Bay, under an overcast, bruise-coloured sky. Goto doesn’t speak, but we hear a conversation he had earlier, with the vampiric Deep Throat agent, Arakawa.

This sequence is so far “outside” normal Patlabor that Goto isn’t even on screen for most of it. Instead we get slow panning shots of the Bay’s infrastructure, bleak and ostensibly ugly, but lifted to an austere beauty by the film’s artists. Atop that, there’s Kenji Kawai’s ambient soundtrack, softly lapping as in the “occupied Tokyo” sequence. Mostly we’re not hearing Goto in this sequence but Arakawa, a character that Patlabor fans don’t know from Adam, imposed on us without warning.

It’s hard not to think of Arakawa’s voice as Oshii’s own spoken commentary on the film. A decade earlier, in 1984 masterpiece Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer, Oshii had included a deeply mysterious shot of a strange boy looking through a window at one of the lost characters. This boy never appears anywhere else in the film. Oshii later commented, “It’s an outsider looking in. Basically, it’s me, the director.” In Patlabor 2, Arakawa’s heavy voice is that of actor Naoto Takenaka. Ironically he’d go on to dub Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury in the Marvel movies, embodying the military heroic fantasy that Patlabor 2 mocks.

In another interview, Oshii said, “With sequels like Beautiful Dreamer, Patlabor 2 and Innocence [Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence], the only way I can take them on is to bring them into my own ‘field.’” Notably, all three Oshii films include prominent monologues that seemingly channel the director’s thoughts. It’s something that viewers may see as either an exasperating indulgence, or as an auteur breaking with commercial templates – Oshii studied Jean-Luc Godard, after all. His approach isn’t unique in anime, though; there were similar monologue devices in the rural scenes of Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday, made two years before Patlabor 2.

Arakawa talks of Japan’s role in the modern world, acting as an unsinkable aircraft carrier for American aggression. Near the end of the film, it’s casually suggested that America is waiting for the chance to turn the clock back to 1945 and control Japan directly again. Despite being enemies, Arakawa and Tsuge clearly agree on these points, and Oshii too. In an email to Brian Ruh, author of Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii, the director was unequivocal. “Tsuge is the other self of Mamoru Oshii. Tsuge’s political thoughts and opinions, if there are any, are all mine.”

Oshii had been an activist back in his high school days. Like many of his peers, he opposed the postwar relationship between Japan and America, where bogus rhetoric about “pacifism” hid Japan’s complicity in US aggression. In Patlabor 2, Arakawa and Goto talk about “unjust peace,” which Arakawa suggests is merely war redefined. While these arguments go back decades, and mirror the views of activists far beyond Japan, Patlabor 2 had a more recent real-world catalyst.  

The film was made just as Japan’s Self-Defence Force – the country’s military force, ostensibly established for protective purposes – was operating overseas for the first time. In 1991, SDF minesweepers went to the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of the Gulf War. A year later, hundreds of SDF soldiers went to Cambodia for non-combat duties, such as repairing roads.

That’s referenced in Patlabor 2’s pre-title prologue, which shows SDF soldiers in UN helmets, operating military Patlabors “somewhere in south-east Asia.” The SDF soldiers are targeted by hostiles, but their command HQ forbids them from engaging, as that’s ruled as an offensive action by a defensive force. In the panic, most of the Japanese soldiers are killed. The rest of the film is framed as a response to this military sophistry, which put the soldiers in a lethal position.

Taken literally, the story in Patlabor 2 isn’t much more credible than a summer action blockbuster. Instead, this is a poetic, artful film – I haven’t even mentioned the plethora of bird imagery, which Oshii claimed had no symbolic meaning, but which is full of the spiritual yearning that would be fulfilled in Ghost in the Shell. And yet Patlabor 2 has a sobriety, a maturity and a contemporary grounding that make it feel extraordinarily like live-action – more than Perfect Blue, Grave of the Fireflies, Your Name or indeed Ghost in the Shell.

The film’s aesthetics help enormously. On the excellent Animétudes site, Matteo Watzky has an extensive article on Patlabor 2’s production. Compared to the first film’s designs, Watzky says, “Characters feel older, more mature and meditative… They are also far less ‘anime-like’… Noses and chins became much rounder, eyes smaller and the features of the face are generally heavier… I’d say that their most essential feature is their minimalism – the lack of details, but also of distinct expressions, which makes them particularly well-adapted to the mysterious, slow, mood of the movie…”

While there’d be a third Patlabor anime feature eight years later, it would be very different and would not involve Oshii. The director would revisit the film in 2015, in the live-action feature The Next Generation Patlabor – Tokyo War, which serves as both a remake and a sequel. There are also echoes of Patlabor 2 in an anime series by Oshii’s protégé Kenji Kamiyama, called Eden of the East. Made by Production I.G in 2009, it’s a comedy thriller, but it provocatively suggests many Japanese youngsters wish for a terror attack like the one in Patlabor 2.

Kamiyama told me, “In Eden, I wasn’t specifically inspired by Oshii, but after I made the series, there were people saying that it looked like my interpretation of some themes taken up by Oshii in Patlabor 2. So I realised there was probably something inside me, but it wasn’t a specific inspiration, I didn’t have it in mind.”

More recently still, Production I.G made Psycho-Pass: Sinners of the System, a trio of cinema films set in the SF world of Psycho-Pass, and directed by that franchise’s mainstay, Naoyoshi Shiotani. The middle Sinners film, “First Guardian” also has soldiers betrayed by their superiors, while there’s a shadowy antagonist who might be dead already, and an airborne attack on a Ministry of Defence building that openly homages a similar sequence in Patlabor 2… Except that the attack scene in the first film was far more bleakly beautiful.

Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films . Patlabor 2 is being released in the UK by Anime Limited.

Source: Patlabor 2

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