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.
This is where I put on my soulja ragz, ascend the tallest minaret in all the land, and shout until my throat goes hoarse,
“Novelty for its own sake is no virtue. Emulation in the pursuit of excellence is no vice.”
Is it really enough for a work to be “different”? Henry Darger’s art certainly fits that bill. Lauding a production only because it’s unusual is as near-sighted as dismissing it solely for relying on time-tested techniques. A show is ultimately only as good as the experience it provides to the viewer.
Recipes persist precisely because they work, providing a relatively safe path to success. However, a completely innovative approach brings a much greater risk of total failure, and it’s not often that a creator’s skill matches his ambition. Yet, the mere fact that a show isn’t like most others somehow earns an automatic pass from the critics. That is gay as hell. Any day, I’ll take a by-the-numbers story that’s fun and engrossing over pretentious Studio 4°C pap that has more hipsters whining about how underappreciated it is than watchers making it past the second episode.
Fortunately, Michiko e Hatchin isn’t one of those cartoons. It is certainly distinctive — but it’s also rich enough that simply fixating on that fact would be an utter disservice to the show.
In the two years since the definitional article, The Confederacy of Dipshits has done nothing but grow without bounds, let alone a sense of shame - Panopticus Æternum even got his own university-sponsored print magazine. A scum-encrusted pond of a few dozen worthless blogs has bloated into a hundreds-strong Exxon Valdez-level stain, spilling over from the leprosarium of MyAnimeList into the speedy thoroughfares of Twitter to spar with “bros” over who’s most cynical and least employable. Though a shallow, substanceless entity, this blob has nonetheless managed to swallow anything resembling editing standards, originality, and quality control procedures, leaving behind only poorly disguised groupthink that hinges on appeals to shared insecurities. The CoD article was penned on the wings of an optimistic premise that internet authors could be led to excel by example, which in turn hoped for some kernel of good in their ranks worthy of cultivating. The perspective from a distance of two years is one of utter despair, a hopelessness so thorough and final, it would have Nobuyuki Fukumoto giving head to an Arisaka 99, for anime fandom is rotten at its core, with degenerate dynamics like the Geek Social Fallacies furnishing its founding and sustaining principles.
In this light, the naivete of the article positing the fandom’s domination by unsavory elements as a treatable condition is trivially apparent upon the realization that the community will never give rise to leaders and gatekeepers capable of taking it in a productive direction. As it stands, the petty bickering between its two most vocal schools, the “I don’t watch new anime, everything after 1998 sucks” nostalgiamongers and the “all shows should be K-ON in a different setting” pedophiles, will continue to deepen into a proper schism like a quarrel between a moldy antiques gallery and a neon-lit dildo shop. Since both camps are foremost social groups, any notion of striving for insight or effective communication is doomed to remain a veneer. After all, if bonding over single-volume manga critiques and season previews is an adequate surrogate for real human interaction, isn’t a genuine pursuit of quality writing and engaging content just needlessly alienating and exclusive?
When it comes to translated Japanese reading fare, I am especially wary of two categories: compilations and “alternative manga.” Too many of the former are downright shams, with a pretty cover and a couple selected works expected to buoy a preponderance of poor-to-mediocre works by members of the headlining’s author’s creative circlejerk. My disdain for the latter stems from a preference for works that are pleasing and competent from the standpoint of classical aesthetics over ones that eschew these standards in favor of social context and subculture in-jokes. Yet, even though Japan, As Viewed By 17 Creators is a poster boy for both types of media, its premise of ten French and seven Japanese cartoonists writing about their experiences in Japan was strong enough to overcome these prejudices — and its execution compelling enough to recommend here.
Though billed as a tie-in to a dating sim, True Tears breaks such shows’ trademark tendency of using hideous character designs with distorted features indicative of developmental disorders. Nominal chromosome counts aren’t the only distinguishing characteristic of the cartoon, which, name aside, turns out to have absolutely nothing in common with the eponymous visual novel. Yet, even as it fails to serve as an exploration of the game (which Wikipedia describes as a generic moé property), True Tears the animation succeeds as an enjoyable show.
The very first trailer, which hit the Internet sometime in 2005, was a profoundly bizarre viewing experience. Set to a hokey Russian-language rap over a remixed Polish tango from the 1930s, an increasingly surreal medley of footage featuring classic Sovietica and medieval horror made it clear that First Squad would be a highly unorthodox production. After successfully building up intrigue with the promise of swordfights and battles between T-34s and bipedal mecha in the same package, Studio 4°C and Canadian outfit Molot Entertainment provided very little follow-up information for about two years. By that time, even those few that were aware that this “weird AMV” was actually promotional material for a full-length feature wrote it off as yet another ambitious anime that failed to secure funding, much like the incredible Amazing Nuts!!, a similarly experimental 4°C effort. The titular moment of truth did not arrive until 2008, when anime media started regularly reporting about a joint Russian and Japanese effort to create a World War II-themed cartoon.
As we entered the Strait of Sangar, the galley television started getting a signal. The crew gathered around the tiny Šilelis, awed by the bright, vivid colors of the sort we had never seen on TV before. Furious samurai, frightened court ladies with bleached faces, frenetic talk show hosts, all talking in a completely alien language - during the four or so hours we had reception, we couldn’t tear ourselves away from these surreal programs
This tale of my uncle’s first international voyage as a Soviet Navy officer was prompted by the mention of Japanese TV at a recent family gathering. “If this is how we see them, ust imagine how they saw us,” someone quipped - and this is precisely the query this article aims to answer, with a focus on illustrated and animated media.
The year is 1989, and my grandpa’s electrical engineering expertise is called upon to fix a neighbor’s misbehaving radio. With the screws out, the clunky off-white box comes apart, revealing something much more sinister than a burnt-out wire or loose capacitor: to everyone’s disgusted surprise, the problem burst out in the form of a massive cockroach colony.
As the adults fumbled for a can of dichlorvos, I was struck by a curious feeling of dissonance. The radio, a versatile informer and entertainer, brought urgent news, classical concerts and chess matches to a populace spread far and wide. It was a tech enthusiast’s toy box and a traveler’s portable companion – but none of this mattered to the roaches, who just wanted a dark, enclosed environment to shit up. Left to their own devices, the insects did an impressive job of multiplying, at the cost of permanent damage to the radio’s original – intended – functionality. Likewise, the rank-and-file anime blogger set up shop in search of an isolated refuge from reality, until enough of them accreted to establish a warped structure of discourse that has very little to do with exchanging ideas or opinions.
It’s not like the preponderance of garbage is unique to the anime-devoted segment of blogs. Enough shitty sites about art, music, programming, etc. are out there to justify invoking the over-quoted Sturgeon’s Law. Nonetheless, all of these domains rely on a competent cadre of writers to uphold standards that foster effective communication, in turn enabling the detritus to be recognized as such. This has not been the case for anime bloggers, most of whom are out not to inform, but to indulge personal insecurities with displays of exhibitionist self-wallowing (and loads of huge screenshots to compensate for the lack of substance). The mediocre are so firmly entrenched that they call the shots, repelling anyone actually interested in genuine discussion or criticism of anime. As a result, not new ideas and understanding, but conformism and endless regurgitation of memes drive the community’s existence. Its degeneration has been so thorough and systematic that most of its participants neatly fall into three categories.