Secret Santa 2016: The Vision of Escaflowne

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Allen’s hair is friggin’ awful. God damn the ’90s.

The Vision of Escaflowne is one of those shows I’ve been meaning to watch since I first got into anime. (The other one is Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.) Secret Santa finally gave me a reason to stop putting it off. I totally didn’t wait until late on Christmas Eve to finish watching it, no sirree.

I feel there’s not much to say about Escaflowne that hasn’t been said by a million others before: for half its run it’s a really solid action-adventure fantasy romp. I hesitate to call it generic, but yeah, it does work primarily with well-worn fantasy tropes. And then the second half happens. It’s kind of dumb. I mean this in the most affectionate way possible.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Escaflowne is how it combines elements from across genres to create a show that is, for lack of a better expression, uniquely anime as heck. You’ve got romance straight out of the sappiest of shoujo manga, swashbuckling giant robots,  fantasy-ass political drama with knights and princesses and crises of succession; big emotions, a penchant for drama, and a willingness to throw in the most ridiculous narrative devices with complete sincerity. It’s hard not to smile a little when the show throws out “evil Isaac Newton wants to recreate the fall of Atlantis on the moon using a machine that alters fate only to be defeated by an angel-winged pretty boy in love” with a straight face. This is anime at its most anime, catgirls and all. Sort of the ‘90s equivalent of something like Aquarion EVOL (which, bee tee dubs, y’all should watch already).

In its character writing, however, Escaflowne falters in comparison to later  ass-bonkers Shoji Kawamori works. While I found the Escaflowne cast charming enough, they weren’t nearly as fun to hang out with as the dorks of Neo-DEAVA or Walkure. It’s unfortunate that the lack of chemistry between the leads killed my interest in the love triangle shenanigans. I’m usually a sucker for cheese, but in a world where the line “I’ll be the dirt to fill the hole in your heart” has been uttered 100% seriously from the cockpit of an orgasm-powered robot, silly romantic drama’s gonna have to work a lot harder to impress me.

That said, I’m pretty glad I saw Escaflowne, although I imagine I’d like it more if the year were 2005. I wonder how much of the love for the show is couched in nostalgia? It’s certainly among the Most Anime things to appear in an era where Very Anime anime was hard to come by. Which makes it a cool relic of anime fandom, I guess. It’s pretty interesting as a point on the evolutionary trajectory of the Kawamori #aesthetic.

Buuuuut if you need me I’ll be in this corner with a box of donuts, thank you very much.

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Secret Santa 2015 – Fuse: Memoirs of the Hunter Girl

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March 4, 2011, the day of the Tohoku earthquake, was also the day thirteen-year-old me watched the first episode of Inuyasha, beginning a seventeen-day marathon of all 193 episodes. It was a bad show, soapy in all the worst ways. But between the awful comedy and endless screeching it occasionally had moments that worked—at its best it managed to hit feelings of anger and loneliness that rang somewhat true to me. Broad and melodramatic, Inuyasha was a fitting show for weird chuuni me and what got me hooked on anime in the first place. Somehow.

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For this year’s Anime Secret Santa, I watched Fuse: Memoirs of a Hunter Girl. It also has cute dog boys. Beyond that, it has little in common with Inuyasha. For one, Fuse can be completed within half a century. It’s also not terrible. Spoiler: there are good faces in this movie. Continue reading

Top Anime OPs of Past, Present, and Other Dimensions (Part 2)

The pinnacle of Japanese music.

Pictured: the pinnacle of Japanese music.

J-Pop/Rock, etc.

I’d say it’s pretty obvious that most anime OPs exist to sell some bland J-pop act. Too often you get cheap bubblegum singles by the show’s cast, or perhaps some up-and-coming new musical act the production committee in charge of Generic Light Novel Dreck: The Anime is just dying to promote. So the pool of anime music out there is more like an ocean of rather samey, disposable tunes that people eat up anyway. Such is the nature of popular entertainment.

Which isn’t to say they’re necessarily bad, however—in fact, I have a five-hour playlist composed of nothing but idol-pop from Uta no Prince-sama, which I swear is quality music and totally not a guilty pleasure of mine. So I do enjoy listening to J-poppy stuff now and then, and I do respect those that manage to stick out somehow. Continue reading

Top Anime OPs of Past, Present, and Other Dimensions (Part 1)

A few hours ago I received a challenge from a friend to list my top five anime OPs. Easy enough, I figured. So I went to consult my playlist of anime music (OPs, EDs, and a couple insert songs), which, out of some obsessive need to categorize everything in my life, I’d catalogued in a stupidly long Word document. It looks like this:

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Um. Clearly, picking just five OPs out of the 200-odd songs on there would be a hefty task. I did, however, manage to narrow it down to about 30, which is certainly easier to sort through than 200, but still far more than the number of fingers I have on my left hand.

Being a mostly normal human being with relatively consistent taste in music and the like, though, I started to notice trends in my favorites. And since I’m ridiculously in love with organizing information, I figured I’d sort them by arbitrary standards to see just how terrible my taste in music is. Continue reading

Flowers of Evil and Shitbuggery

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Back in spring of last year there was this whole argument over Flowers of Evil. Something about ugly rotoscoping, “anti-moe” (pfft), poor decisions by artsy-fartsy directors, arrogant hipsters, all that. The disagreement still continues: there’s this group that loves the anime adaptation despite its flaws, and another that vehemently disagrees. Some find it bitterly real; others find it a pile of pretentious, inconclusive, unengaging tryhard. While I don’t think the latter opinion is wholly invalid, I gravitate towards the former for largely personal reasons, mainly the extent to which I identify with the main character.

So Kasuga Takao’s an geeky, awkward kid living in a small Japanese town. He’s obsessed with this book by Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil, in English), convinced it’s totally edgy and dark and brilliant. Which it might be (not that I’ve read it myself; I can’t stand those Frenchies, man), but that doesn’t matter. Here’s the thing: Kasuga is a pretentious little shit. He’s a basically decent person, but he’s ultimately pretty average (which, for a kid at his age, means he’s really, really dumb) despite his taste for smart-person literature. He doesn’t get The Flowers of Evil; he reads it because he knows that’s what intelligent, sophisticated people do. If that’s not pretension then I don’t know what is.

Loathe as I am to admit it, I was kind of doing that too. It’s not really why I watched Flowers of Evil, but it was the reason I didn’t immediately condemn it as so many others did. For at least two or three episodes I was determined not to be one of those shitbug whiners who would never understand true art. But I was pretty indifferent to the show itself, only touting it as brilliance because I felt I should. Ironic, isn’t it? Continue reading

Twelve Days of Anime #1: Happy Pulse

Happy PulseThis year in anime was pretty O.K. for anime, I think. Not great, but I wouldn’t dare say anime is dying or anything. You get the usual slog of mediocre to terrible dreck, and then a handful of good shows. Same as every year. But every so often there comes a work of sheer brilliance that everything else in the season looks drab in comparison. I’m talking Uta no Prince-sama Maji Love 2000%, a show so shameless and absurd it veers straight back into genius. Not comedic genius, mind you; UtaPri’s too classy for that. No, it’s not ironic enjoyment, but honest affection for the unabashedly silly affair that is UtaPri. It’s cheesy and over-the-top and, well, happy. Happy Pulse, to be exact.

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Twelve Days of Anime #2: Dance of the Deviants

The rotoscoping in FLOWERS OF EVIL was undoubtedly the most controversial creative decision in anime this year. Some thought it looked stupid or insulting to the original work; others embraced the style as closer to Shuuzou Oshimi’s intent. (I fell on both sides of the argument at once, for reasons that would take rather long to explain.) Any reservations I had, though, were blown away by one moment that undeniably worked. Yes, I’m talking about the classroom scene. 

I’m going to assume if you’ve seen at least the first seven episodes of the show, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And I’m going to assume you agree that it’s a thing of beauty. The scene is like a dream—Nakamura and Kasuga gleefully wreck the classroom, dancing in the ruins, releasing their pent-up frustration at the shitbugs around them, to the slow, contemplative original version of the notoriously creepy ED song. Their expressions, though somewhat obscured by the rough, blobbish art, are clearly human. The jerky, awkward chaos of their movements only enhances the rawness of their emotions as they destroy the world that’s been holding them in.  They’re doing awful, awful things, but it feels damn good to them. And it feels damn good to watch. Because these are real people. Not cartoons, people. Same as us. 

For everything FLOWERS OF EVIL does wrong, it also does something else very, very right. So even though the anime ends in a terrible place, and even though it has pacing slower than a Shounen Jump anime on narcotics, I do have to applaud the effort. The classroom scene, easily the pinnacle of the entire show, is perfectly shot, perfectly scored, perfectly conveyed with all the reality of actual human faces, sexual overtones and all. It’s a gorgeous, visceral scene rivaled by only one other moment this year, talk of which I’ll save for another time. (Like, say, tomorrow’s twelve days post.) Discounting my terrible taste, though, (ah, subjectivity!), this one scene is probably the crowning moment of 2013. Greatest feat of directorial genius in 2013, at least. Wholly unforgettable.