Category: film and animation

Uncle Walt-a-thon: Snow White

This past weekend, I started an Uncle Walt-a-thon. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be watching every major animated Walt Disney film. First up was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Overall, it was quite good, primarily as an animation showpiece. The background art was done with a soft colour palette, similar to water colours, which gives it a childlike, storybook feel. It reminds me somewhat of last year’s Wandering Son. There’s also a nice variety in the settings; the evil queen’s castle, the dark part of the forest, the dwarves’ cottage, and the mine all have their own colour schemes and very different atmospheres. The character animation was very fluid – this show has almost constant movement, which modern animation often lacks (granted, this applies mostly to TV shows).

The plot can be explained in its entirety in under two minutes, but plot seems to be mostly beside the point. The ending, for example, is nothing more than the prince, who doesn’t even have a name, just showing up, kissing Snow White to bring her back to life, and the two of them riding off. Instead, we mostly just get a sequence of individual scenes, usually with music and singing. It’s all well directed, the songs are catchy, and the simple humour makes it a “family film” in the best sense of the phrase.

On a side note, I’d like to say that Grumpy is the best dwarf, by far. Mainly because he’s the only one to ask the obvious questions, like “Who is this girl to boss us around in our own house? What’s she doing here in the first place? Isn’t it kinda risky to hide someone a powerful witch desperately wants to kill?”

Uncle Walt-a-thon: Pinocchio ->…

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Anime Autobiography – In the Modern Fashion

<– Previous: Anime Autobiography – Endless Delinquency and Despair

In 2010, my university career ended with a whimper, and I entered the “real world.” Actually, I just continued at the job I already had and spent most of the next year or so wondering what to do for a career. It was a somewhat depressing time, in a way, but hey – I still had my Japanese cartoons.

Now, at this point I’d seen enough that fewer and fewer shows offered really new experiences for me. Most of the shows I saw in 2010-11 stood out because they excelled at something that I’d already seen elsewhere. I also find it difficult to say much about some of these shows because they’re so recent that I can’t quite contextualise them yet. After reflecting on how to go about sharing my experience from these years, it occurred to me that the most significant event is probably a shift in how I watched anime. So here we go – how I watch anime in a modern fashion.…

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Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Code Geass took me a while to get through, partly because Crunchyroll has the first season but not the second, but I finished it. This turned out to be one of those shows that I should’ve watched sooner, because, despite a few problems, it had a lot of things I enjoy – a grand scale, a battle of wits, moral ambiguity, a mix of angst and humour, pizza, and a little sister character, among other things.…

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Fate/Zero on Glorious Blu-Ray

As one of the brave ones willing to shell out $370 for shiny discs, yesterday I finished rewatching Fate/Zero on glorious blu-ray. Since it’s a limited edition I don’t know how much longer it’ll be available, or if it is even now. For those curious, though, I figured I’d share my thoughts on how it turned out. I won’t say much about the content of the show, except, “Go watch it.” It’s an excellent series, and I’m looking forward to the second season, which starts in a couple weeks.…

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Anime Autobiography – Endless Delinquency and Despair

<– Previous: Anime Autobiography – Into the Bowels of College

Sometimes, one discovers the right show at the right time. In high school, I found Azumanga Daioh, early at university I found Genshiken, and early in 2009, the second half of my junior year, I found Welcome to the NHK!, about a seemingly hopeless shut-in who dropped out of college. Having already noticed a pattern in the shows I watched, I thought, “Is this what I have to look forward to?”…

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Anime Autobiography – Into the Bowels of College

<– Previous: Anime Autobiography – Anime Clubbin’

Going into 2007 and ’08, the combination of university, work, and commuting between them destroyed the vast amounts of free time I’d enjoyed in high school, though having my own car and a decent income for a college student did take some of the sting off that. My hobby of collecting hobbies, though, had to go. I dropped the time-consuming video games, especially the RPG’s I liked, as well as my attempt at learning to play guitar. Literature remained, and though I did as much leisure reading as I could manage, as a literature major I got most of my fill of that in class. Most of my leisure reading, in fact, consisted of graphic novels.…

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How Do We Judge Anime?

Recently, my sister and I were talking about our favourite anime, and she said that she finds it difficult to separate her top three, Madoka Magica, Gurren Lagann, and Mushi-Shi. Now, ‘favourite’ is a subjective term, so there’s no need to try to be scientific about it, but this did get me thinking about how one would objectively judge between works that, though in the same medium, are so different from each other. Obviously, art will never be mathematically precise, but it is possible to make some judgements of quality. So, as a little exercise, I thought I’d consider these three.

Typically, of course, one would begin by looking at technical skill. In this case, all three of these shows have detailed artwork and fluid animation, though as I recall, Mushi-Shi was the most stiff and Madoka the smoothest. Madoka also seemed to have the most detail and used the widest variety of animation techniques.

Here we run into a problem, though. Madoka benefited greatly by using different styles of animation, for example the paper-cutouts for battles with the witches. However, neither Gurren Lagann nor Mushi-Shi suffered for their relatively more conservative approach. For Mushi-Shi, especially, with a generally more sedate atmosphere, wildly divergent styles would likely only distract the viewer, and it actually benefits by presenting the supernatural mushi in the same style as the everyday. Subjectively, I prefer Shaft’s approach to Madoka, but objectively all three have a style that fits their themes and narrative.

What about themes? Gurren Lagann seems like a clear-cut coming-of-age story, about a boy trying to live up to his mentor. He does this by the end of the first season, and though the second season doesn’t really go beyond that and is thus probably unnecessary, the concept is simple but well-executed. On the other hand, Madoka takes a more complex approach, juggling a few subplots supporting a Faustian theme. Does the added complexity make Madoka superior? Though there’s certainly some merit to simplicity, as with, say, folk music, who would say that Woody Guthrie is therefore greater than Ludwig van Beethoven? Both series do what they set out to do, but I think it’s fair to give more credit to the more ambitious project.

Mushi-Shi, though, complicates things. As an episodic series, it does have its themes, but they’re developed across disparate narratives, and each narrative arc is necessarily short and fairly simple in itself. A single, longer arc allows more change in the protagonists and more subtletly in plotting, but in these particular cases neither Gurren Lagann nor Madoka have a lot of subtlety. I wouldn’t say that episodic series are ipso facto  better or worse than series with a single narrative, so I suppose it’s just something to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

What about originality? Gurren Lagann and Madoka are original works, while Mushi-Shi is an adaptation from a graphic novel. There’s something to be said for originality, especially if we’re discussing historical significance. Now, I would follow Ezra Pound who, in a discussion of poetry, distinguished between ‘innovators’ and ‘masters’. They’re not the same, but a lot of credit should go to those who can do both. Though I do think a work should be judged primarily on its own merits, in a case like these three series we should note that Gurren Lagann and Madoka created something new (albeit within well-established genres), while Mushi-Shi merely translated an existing work.

So, where does this all leave us? All three excel, but Gurren Lagann‘s undoubtedly entertaining but thematically mostly dead weight second season makes it the weakest. For the other two, since Mushi-Shi is a very straight adaptation, while Madoka is original work that also has a more visually interesting presentation, I’d make Madoka my first choice of this bunch.

Obviously, I didn’t go into a lot of detail, and maybe a closer analysis would’ve changed my mind on that. However, I mostly wanted to have a little intellectual exercise, as I find that I enjoy what I watch and read more the more I think about them.

Plus, if my sister comes to a different conclusion, I like being able to show her that she’s objectively wrong.…

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Anime Autobiography – Anime Clubbin’

<– Previous: Anime Autobiography: A Rental Hobby

I began university in Fall 2006, and lived on-campus the first semester. Very quickly, I joined two clubs – the Newman Club, where I’d spend most of my time, and of course the anime club. At the time, I don’t think I realised just how little anime I had actually seen, and though one of my roommates was also a fan, he was just a casual fan like me. So, now able to watch several different shows a week, my experience with anime would expand rapidly.…

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What’s Up with Anime Fans?

A recent conflux of posts on blogs I follow has me thinking about the place and perception of animation in the United States. On Friday, Yumeka over at Mainichi Anime Yume wrote about introverted and extroverted fans. An excerpt:

At first glance, it seems like anime should be a hobby one indulges in in an introverted way. After all, in our society it’s not typically considered “normal” for adults to be really into foreign animated shows. […] Like other so-called “nerdy” hobbies, in both Japan and elsewhere, anime tends to be associated with anti-social geeks/otaku who have few real-life relationships and stay at home all day on the computer – a prime example of introversion.

Coincidentally, Akira at Moe Fundamentalism, whose “12 Years of Anime” is part of what prompted me to write my own recent retrospectives, wrote a post “On Shame,” worth reading in its entirety, but here’s an excerpt:

I am very uncomfortable with the vast majority of otakudom. […] As someone who’s sold merchandise at booths for many years now (think yaoi paddles), I have seen some truly outrageous behavior at cons. I have often said this, but being an otaku at a con does not give one free license to stop observing basic standards of social decency. It is never acceptable to randomly hug strangers, nor is it acceptable to scream out loud when you see some doujinshi that you want. You’re buying pornography, for God’s sake— have some tact.

To round all this out, Proph over at Collapse: The Blog, which typically covers more serious cultural and political material, also wrote about the anime subculture. Though he admits his experiences with anime and its fans are relatively brief and anecdotal, he does share a few observations:

I confess to having watched very little anime in the past, most of which I was forced to watch by an anime-loving friend. I’ve been mixed about what I’ve seen.[…] I don’t get the appeal, perhaps because of my instinctive dislike for the idea of being a grown man sitting around watching cartoons all day. I think what turned me off most was just the casual and unquestioned weirdness of it all. It’s not even divergent enough to be surreal, because it takes itself too seriously.[…]

So I suppose it’s a good fit for people who are themselves casually weird, the kind who grow greasy, patchy beards and wear oversized coats with way too many pockets and chains and collars and all that crap.

If you read the whole thing, you’ll see he pulls no punches in his description of the fans he’s met. Neither does Akira, for that matter, and I can’t really disagree much with either of them. So, is there something inherently weird or childish about animation? If not, why does it attract the sort of people Akira and Proph describe?

To the first question, I can easily answer “No.” Though most American cartoons are for children, outside of a few comedies like South Park or The Simpsons, we needn’t even leave the West to see animation can facilitate serious films. France, after all, has produced Persepolis and The Illusionist. A look at Japan furnishes plenty of examples of shows that are neither for children nor comedies. Though even the best animation does not quite reach the levels of older media like literature or music, ambitious works like Akira or Neon Genesis Evangelion indicate that it’s likely just a matter of time before the field matures enough to produce a classic. Some would argue that some creators, usually Miyazaki Hayao or Kon Satoshi, already have, and maybe so – we’ll see how they stand the test of time.

The only reason I could see for considering animation unsuited for adults is that it is a level farther abstracted from reality than live-action productions. I may grant that animation may be less suited to grittier genres like war films or noir, but this abstraction is animation’s strength. It facilitates the audience’s suspension of disbelief, very helpful for science fiction or fantasy works like Mushi-shi, as well as comedy like Cromartie High School, and allows effects that would be too jarring in live-action, like the paper cutouts in the witch segments of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, for example.

So, it would seem that the only reason to look down on animation in general is that it’s an uncommon interest. This does, I think, have some merit. For a society to function, some degree of cohesion is needed, and culture, including popular culture, provides a set of common experiences that facilitate that. I do think that every American, for example, should know how to play baseball, have read a Mark Twain novel, and seen a couple Disney cartoons. I’ll add that, if Western nations produced as wide a variety of animation as Japan, I would probably focus on those and only watch the best of the best that Japan produced.

That said, though, individuals do each have their own interests, and though it’s polite not to “flaunt” them, one shouldn’t need to hide them, either. My boss and coworker, for example, know that I like anime, and out of politeness even ask about it occasionally. For the same reason, I’ll occasionally ask about my coworker’s hunting and fishing trips, even though I’m not very interested in these myself.

So, why feel embarassed about anime?…

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Anime Autobiography – A Rental Hobby

<– Previous: Anime Autobiography – serial experiments lain

Moving into 2005, though lain had inspired me to seek out more anime, I faced a couple roadblocks that prevented me from fully immersing myself right away. First, I lacked time. Though I had loads of free time in high school, I’ve long had a hobby of collecting hobbies, so anime had to compete with comics, video games, literature, guitar, film, and whatever else grabbed my interest.

Second, and more critically, I lacked funds. This was 2004-6, and most anime series came out on multiple discs, each costing at least $20, and I just could not afford spending that much, especially sight unseen. Many would’ve just pirated what they wanted to watch, but I’ve always felt uncomfortable with piracy. Besides, it would’ve been difficult to justify using up that much bandwidth on the family computer.…

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