If there’s any sort of cartoon that deserves to be labeled “pop anime”, it’s the shounen action show. As easy to frame as it is tough to do right, the concept relies on balancing between mass appeal and a distinctive style. For a genre crowded by some of Japan’s biggest sellers, a standout gimmick is no longer sufficient to make a hit. In the new willennium, such a cartoon must carry not only its own flavor, but also provide a canvas for the internet to make it their own. The process has shifted from using the anime to sell a toy to the anime itself BEING the toy. Here, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the merchandise and, among such merchandise, Attack on Titan is the 20lb Soul of Chogokin robot.
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.