Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is my favorite animated film of all time. Bleak-toned in both spirit and aesthetics, this morose 1999 tale about duty, revolution and human psychology converted me from an anime skeptic into a full-out fan of the medium. After the first two cinematic entries in Mamoru Oshii’s alternate-history Kerberos Saga tanked at the box office, Bandai only agreed to produce a third if someone other than Oshii directed it. Perhaps inspired by the success of his Ghost in a Shell movie, Oshii decided to follow up the live-action features with an animated movie, with veteran key animator Hiroyuki Okiura at the helm as a first-time director. Afterward, Okiura resumed a career of unlauded animation-shop duties, and it wasn’t until 2011 that his name resurfaced with the surprise announcement of a second directing effort titled A Letter to Momo. In light of Jin-Roh’s reputation as a veritable calling card of “serious” anime, the news that this would be a children’s film came off as incongruous to fans as the publication of J.K. Rowling’s decidedly non-magical Casual Vacancy did to Potterheads. Yet, while Rowling’s creative excursion had something to offer to pretty much everyone, A Letter To Momo ended up, by and large, excessively casual and mostly vacant.
A fascinating consequence of creators betraying audience expectations is what I call Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The moment a new work, usually a followup to an established favorite, is reputed to deviate from his notion of “doing justice”, the diehard fan erects a preemptive barrier against disappointment by declaring that it, quite simply, doesn’t exist. Notorious for a history of unscrupulous cash-ins on old successes, the anime industry is a well-known predicate for perpetrating this phenomenon.
For Kinoko Nasu zealots, it’s Shingetsutan Tsukihime. For the Ruff Readerz enamored with the hit Read or Die OVA, it’s the TV sequel. But all these folks are small fry when compared to that select caste of old school heads whose favorite pastime is to proudly boast of the extent to which they steadfastly avoid any and all contact with Bubblegum Crisis 2040. The original Bubblegum Crisis is their Bible, with the 1998 remix deemed an aberration more unspeakably heretical than The Gospel of Judas, The Satanic Verses and BLVCKLVND RVDIX 66.6 (1991) combined.
While I can sympathize with the sentiment, being a newjack fan who got into anime in 2005 prevents me from identifying with it. And besides, NO FIRST PRIZE is all about smashing old prejudices, finding new insights and… giving credit where it is due. That’s right, 2040 isn’t just an inferior sequel but a tremendous low point for anime in general. You heard it here first: the denialists are 100% on-point.
There’s usually at least one every year. The anime establishment’s decline shows no sign of slowing down, and non-pedophile fans eagerly latch onto anything that promises redemption from a glut of moe fluff and light novel adaptations. “In a fishless river, a crawfish’ll do”, goes the Russian proverb, and if the people want a savior, they’ll invent one if need be. Hyped to a fever pitch not seen since the heyday of Haruhi Suzumiya, Redline produced a level of buzz that managed to leak even past my self-erected barriers against the Sea of Dipshit. The idea of a fun summer movie sounded both credible and alluring - after all, could that many rave reviews all be wrong? Gomennasai, Bloom-sensei — I was a hundred years too early.
While mainly remembered as a “Rambo in space” cartoon, the venerable Armored Trooper VOTOMS series didn’t become the flagship in the repertoire of Real Robot anime stalwart Ryosuke Takahashi for being just another robot slugfest. Set in a sprawling, masterfully developed universe embroiled an interstellar war, VOTOMS gained acclaim as much for its nuanced geopolitics as for loving portrayals of military technology.
As the Scopedog Armored Trooper (AT) showcased the power of multi-role optics and programmable controls in a mobile battle platform, the blue-haired curmudegon Chirico Cuvie became the answer to Char Aznable for that thuggish ruggish boneyard of lowtech sci-fi fans with a fondness for mecha more inclined to mow down infantry in the jungle than shout attack names at nebulas. At the heart of the plot is an intergalactic conspiracy between warring nations, clandestine cults and organized criminal organizations, but as the story unfolds, Chirico and his destructive powers take center stage. VOTOMS: Shining Heresy turns this premise on its head: Chirico’s talents are now openly paraded as the key point of contention, but merely as the backdrop for a heavy dose of political scheming. Showing great promise, Shining Heresy is in many ways a product of the tumultuous nineties, ending up as both victim and symbol of its genre’s ultimate downfall.