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(I will now surprise no one by writing about Akira again.)

Akira (1988) is timeless. If you’re okay with violent anime, watch it. If you saw it a long time ago (and are okay with violent anime), watch it again. You may be very pleased at how well Katsuhiro Otomo’s twenty-five-year-old anime film, loosely based on his lengthy manga, stands up both as a story and work of cinematic art.

Akira is a near-future dystopian drama set in a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo run by corrupt a government, a nefarious military-scientific complex, and—nearer the ground—by teen motorcycle gangs. The story centers on teen bikers, Kaneda and Tetsuo. Kaneda is the flashy, badass gang leader, Tetsuo the runt of the pack, who, we can guess, is only included in the gang because he’s Kaneda’s best friend. This power dynamic changes, however, when Tetsuo is abducted by the sinister Akira project, concerned with channeling massive energy through children. Tetsuo becomes the latest in a line of young test subjects, including the eponymous Akira, to have their lives and health devastated in exchange for superpowers. To save Tetsuo, Kaneda joins a band of revolutionaries and infiltrates the top secret Akira installation, only to discover that the friend he set out to rescue is no longer the boy he knew…

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
labingi: (riki)
If you’re in the mood for some horror anime this Halloween, you may want to check out Kara no Kyoukai (Boundary of Emptiness), a series of seven anime films (Ufotable, 2007-2009) based on the light novel of the same name. Each film is a standalone story, forming the loosely arced tale of a dark and quirky detective agency investigating magic-related crimes, usually grisly ones. As character drama, the series has its moments, but it is most notable for its dark, violent, intricately plotted mysteries showcasing strong female characters. Not for kids.

The central characters are Shiki Ryougi, a somber young woman with amazing supernatural fighting abilities; Mikiya Kokutou, a kind young man who was her high school friend; and (to a lesser extent) Touko Aozaki, their boss and a powerful, offbeat sorceress. The arc narrative—sometimes more central, sometimes less—concerns Shiki’s nature and how she grapples with her incredible powers and her desire to kill. In the course of Shiki’s search for her place in society and sense of identity, the team encounters numerous murderers, sorcerers, destructive spirits, and so on.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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The Unlimited: Hyoubu Kyousuke (2013), produced by Manglobe as a 12-part anime sequel to Zettai Karen Children, follows the adventures of the original anime’s antagonist, Hyoubu Kyousuke, as he fights–violently–for the rights of “espers” (people with superpowers) in a world dominated by norms. The Unlimited has all the elements of a truly great anime but misses a lot of chances to deploy them to the best effect. Overall, it is well above average without being spectacular. I have not seen Zettai Karen Children and so can confidently say that you don’t need to in order to enjoy The Unlimited.

The story is fairly simple, though the plot has some convoluted twists. Hyoubu Kyousuke is a very powerful esper (he can fly around, use telekinesis, shoot energy waves, etc.). He was born in the 1930s, but thanks to his powers has an extended lifespan and still looks like a teen, albeit white-haired. A child hero within a special esper unit in World War II, he became disillusioned with “normals” after experiencing cruel persecution and devoted his adult life to forming a criminal esper organization, P.A.N.D.R.A., to resist and possibly exterminate norms. Opposing him is nigh everyone, including B.A.B.E.L., a norm-esper organization founded by one of Kyousuke’s esper companions from World War II, Fujiko. Unbeknownst to Kyousuke, he is also being opposed by a young esper he has recently recruited, Andy Hinomiya, a Japanese-American who is, in fact, a US undercover agent. But things are more complicated than even Andy knows, and he may find cause to switch his loyalties. The three titular “children” from Zettai Karen Children, now middle schoolers, also make brief appearances as B.A.B.E.L. agents but are not central characters.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil) (2013) is a truly different anime. This 13-episode Zexcs production, based on the manga by Shuzo Oshimi, is a dark slice-of-life teen drama. I generally detest slice-of-life teen drama, so I’m not just idly gushing when I say this series is (mostly) fantastic. It owes much of its originality–and controversy–to its use of rotoscoping in place of traditional animation. This technique, in which live-action footage is traced over, puts Aku no Hana artistically in a bit of an uncanny valley between cartoon and live action drama. The effect unsettled me at first, but the whole story is meant to be unsettling, and in the end, I found it the perfect mix of realism with a creepy, otherworldly overlay.

Aku no Hana starts out as an adventure in Schadenfreude. Shy middle-school boy, Takao Kasuga, has a crush on the beautiful and accomplished Nanako Saeki, and in a moment of bad judgment, he steals her PE uniform. Unfortunately for Kasuga, this momentary lapse is witnessed by Sawa Nakamura, a borderline psycho from his class who is desperate to find another authentic “sicko” like herself to relieve the tedium and hypocrisy she sees in middle-school life. She blackmails Kasuga into performing more and more bizarre acts in exchange for her silence about the uniform. And Kasuga, like the clueless, emotionally sensitive boy he is, lets himself get buried in increasingly unconscionable webs of deceit. All this is just the jumping-off point for an in-depth psychological investigation of Kasuga, Nakamura, and Saeki, none of whom is quite what they initially seem.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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The best thing I can say about the anime, Glass Fleet (2006), is it does interesting work with gender. If subverting gender stereotypes is up your alley, it’s worth watching. Pound for pound, it may include more gender fail than win, but when it wins, it wins in a pretty unusual way. The following review is substantially spoiler free. Below it, clearly labeled, is spoilerific commentary.

Glass Fleet is a 26-episode space fantasy anime about a People’s Army rebelling against the current emperor. The leader of this army, Michel, enlists the help of dethroned prince and super-warrior Cleo to overthrow the reign of the rather cold and amoral/immoral emperor, Vetti. Cleo has inherited a fantastically amazing glass battleship, which may become the pattern for a fleet: hence the title.

In many respects, the series is not very good. It looks cheap. The animation is choppy. The world building is ridiculous, inexplicable, and inconsistent even by generous fantasy standards. The space battles are absurd, though of the face-to-face fighting is reasonably well choreographed. The handling of the plot and character trajectories has some huge problems that may leave most viewers unsatisfied. So why am I bothering to pull this series out and dust it off now?

Because in odd moments, it’s deeply compelling. (Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.)
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Angel’s Egg (1985) is an OVA I profoundly like—but I may be weird. Whether this collaboration between artist Yoshitaka Amano and director Mamoru Oshii will appeal to you depends strongly on what you look for in anime. If you like the meditative, beautiful, and atmospheric, you may be in for a treat. However, if you like your stories to have some sort of plot and pacing and make sense, you may wish to look elsewhere. One thing is undeniable: the visual artistry of this almost thirty-year-old anime stands up elegantly across the decades.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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Psycho-Pass: cop-turned-criminal tangles with disgruntled literature major (or that’s how I like to look at it). This 2012 series from Production I. G. is excellent hard sci fi and close-but-no-cigar to excellent character drama. Set about a hundred years in the future, the series posits a Japan in which all people are monitored by means of a biofeedback device called a “psycho-pass” (katakana pun on “psychopath”). The psycho-pass measures emotional state. If a person reaches a certain level of agitation, a very pink and kawaii robot (or cop inside a holo-robot suit) may appear to suggest therapy. At a higher level, the pink robot may arrest you or shoot you dead. This system is the basis of Japan’s new calm and well-adjusted civilization. But as you might expect, it also poses problems. For one thing, some high-strung or traumatized people are not really criminally inclined, yet they may find themselves imprisoned or worse. Conversely, there’s a segment of the population that tests as normal but is, in fact, coldly sociopathic. (If this sounds like Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, it’s meant to: the anime explicitly invokes the book.) Throughout the series, a team of Enforcers (emotionally volatile prisoners put to work as cops) and their detective supervisors deal with with various crimes, mostly fomented by one of these cold sociopaths.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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Ano Hi no Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (aka. Ano Hana: That Flower) (2011) is a very pleasing slice-of-life anime with a supernatural twist: five teenage friends are visited by the ghost of a friend, Menma, who died in an accident when they were children. Through revisiting her death, they must come to grips with their feelings about Menma and each other and find a way to move on.

Read the rest at the Geek Girl Project.
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Let’s hop a time machine back to 1982 where we’ll discover that, though anime is rapidly evolving, good anime is not necessarily new anime: 1982 saw the release of The Arcadia of My Youth, a feature film prequel to the popular 1970s anime series, Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Leiji Matsumoto’s* Harlock universe has a gazillion iterations, many of which contradict each other, so for this review, I’m going to treat the film as a standalone, and it stands alone ably.

The story concerns a future in which Earth–among other planets–has been colonized by an alien imperial force. Humans either subsist as second-class citizens under this regime or rebel against it at risk to their lives. Chief among these risk takers is Captain Harlock, a former soldier in the war against the occupation and future “pirate” outlaw. The movie chronicles his movement from disillusioned soldier to honorable rebel leader. Along the way, he gets new companions (notably the engineer, Tochiro, and pirate lady, Emeraldas), loses some old companions, and learns about the wages of imperial domination. The title puns on the name of Harlock’s ship and epithet of his home town on Earth.

Read the rest at the Geek Girl Project.
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I have only seen about two-thirds of Cowboy Bebop (the first five episodes, a couple in the middle, and the last half of the series). That's all I'm going to watch for now, and I think it's enough to form some thoughts. Having seen the end, I understand better now why this anime is so well loved, though I remain bemused by its ranking as one of the best of all time (again, I haven't seen every episode). It would not be in my top five; it would be in my top ten. If I restricted my rankings to anime from before 2000, it might well make it into the top five.

For anyone who's been under a rock for the past fourteen years, Cowboy Bebop is about a motley band of bounty hunters patrolling the solar system in the late 21st century. They all have personal issues, and they all work pretty hard not to deal with them.

Provisional Review with Spoilers )
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Of course, it's not really my fan vid. I just lounged in my proverbial easy chair and made suggestions about clips while Demitas did all the work--she's amazing with timing, coloring, fading, etc. I'm quite proud of the final product: two years to vid 2 minutes.

Fandom: Gungrave
Song: "Friends" by Flight of the Conchords
Summary: Harry and Brandon: Friends
Genre: Comedy (in a Gungrave sort of way)


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Damn, has a work ever made so little impression on me? I netflixed Ghost in the Shell, the original 1995 movie, the other day on the theory that it's a classic I'd missed seeing since, well, 1995, and I really ought to correct that omission. I'd seen one of the later ones, and it hadn't made much impression, but I figured I should still see the original.

So I started watching it, and about 40 minutes in, it began to dawn on me that, indeed, I had seen it, unless the GitS universe does the thing with the blonde cyborg woman's torso more than once. The more I thought about it, the more I began to think that I had, in fact, netflixed this before (not more than year or two ago). I eventually stopped watching and sent it back. I still can't remember how it ends. I can't really bring myself to care.

I know this is a classic anime. And, yes, the animation is lovely--it reminds me a lot of Akira, but it's better, being newer. The story also steers clear of almost every annoying anime trope out there. Even its fan service, which is considerable, has the virtue of being plausibly anatomically proportionate. It's "good quality"; it just makes no impression on me. The plot/theme--cyborgs and the nature of identity and all--doesn't seem very original (not even in 1995). The characters are not annoying but have little personality and almost no chemistry with each other. It makes so little impression on me I evidently can't even remember I've watched it. Well, at least now I can say I gave it a shot (twice apparently).
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Sky Crawlers is an anime movie set in an alternate history where genetically engineered ageless "teens" fight in an aerial war/quasi-reality show to ease political tensions.

Netflix users give this film very mixed reviews. On the one hand, it is praised as a thoughtful, philosophical art film at the top end of anime quality. On the other, it is characterized as painfully slow, ultimately unsatisfying, and not actually very deep or surprising. For myself, I liked it, but I can see where both views come from. It is slow and overuses still shots, and the protagonist is bizarrely low affect (in a flat rather than interesting way). The ending is unsatisfying, one of those "it never ends" endings. But I did find it beautifully filmed, well acted, thoughtful, and somewhat subtle in character arcs if not social commentary. I most definitely enjoyed watching it.

The standout aspect of the film for me is the character of Kusanagi, one of the eternal teens (not actually especially young), who is a commanding officer and nice subversion of the vinegary-spinster-in-command trope. She is vinegary, but for rather complex and well-developed reasons. She's not intrinsically brittle and repressed so much as just very depressed, for understandable reasons, and going quietly through a major life crisis, which somewhat encapsulates the existential problems of these eternal warrior teens en masse. The unraveling of her story and how it entangles the protagonist, Kannami, is interesting and moving.

Another interesting aspect of the film is its use of language. The original Japanese soundtrack has the best English I've ever heard in an anime, and I'm not referring to the BBC newscaster (plainly English) but to the Japanese seiyuu. The group the film centers on are a Japanese squadron stationed in Europe, who speak Japanese among themselves but use English as their lingua franca. This code-switching is used to very good effect, not least to illustrate how straightjacketed and uncomfortable these people are when acting their roles for the news media.

I recommend the film to viewers who are okay with slow plots and subtle bits of character development--and who go into this film expecting quiet quality but no major, epic payoff.
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Anime
Un-Go: Detective solves cases involving science (fiction) and magic in a near future/AU post-war Japan. Generally, I recommend this intellectual 12 episode series, though I agree with those reviewers who've said it would be better if it were longer. As it is, too little of its intriguing potential is explored. Its standout characteristic is its setting. Based on novels written shortly after World War II and set in the post-war Meiji Era, this science fiction transposition captures with an eerie melancholy the daily reality of living in the very early years of reconstruction from a devastating war. From the quietly toppled buildings in the background to the war stories nobody talks about to the moments of overzealous happy-bustling-business-entertainment, the whole series conveys a sense of lacquering over an ugly painting in the hopes that the shine with transform it.

Very Few Spoilers )

Books
I dabbled significantly with By Way of Deception, which purports to be author Victor Ostrovsky's account of working as an intelligence agent in the Mossad. Apparently, Ostrovsky himself subsequently stated that he'd made up a lot. You can kind of guess. There are just things that don't track, like if the Mossad is so dangerous and globally powerful, how is it he managed to expose their entire institution with no reprisal?

That said, taken as a work of fiction, I found the book a fascinating example of how to conduct spycraft. I have never read/viewed a work of fiction in which the business of intelligence was conducted with such fearsome grace, though Le Carré probably comes closest.


And just about twenty years later than I should have, I finally read the first Discworld book. I think I missed my own best developmental window for this series (at least based on this first one: I know there a lot and they evolve). I probably would have loved it in high school. Nowadays, for one thing, I don't have time to read comedy. I need to read for catharsis, and with almost no reading time, that leaves little time for laughs without a cathartic payoff. I also found it impossible not to find the book almost 100% derivative of Hitchhiker's Guide or The Last Unicorn. But I did enjoy it; it's fun and light. Rincewind and Twoflower are both engaging characters, and the Discworld itself is interesting and probably the most memorable thing in the book. I also like the interdimensional bit on the airplane. I'll try the second one at least.
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Fate/Stay Night has a great concept that suffers from an overcrowded ensemble--the BSG effect--and a little bit, for my tastes, from being shounen. Here's the breakdown, light on spoilers:

The Good
* Neat concept in bringing together various famous historical/mythical figures to do battle. There's good potential for interesting interactions and cultural commentary.

* Saber: we too rarely see really good female anime characters, but she definitely qualifies. And she's a great asexual role model despite a few romantic overtones.

* Archer and Shirou's relationship: probably the most engaging thing in the series (as a thought experiment).

* Gilgamesh: well characterized as a very ancient king with a fundamentally different sense of social reality than much of subsequent civilization, including modern times. Culturally well juxtaposed with chivalrous knight Saber.

* Low annoyance factor: there are various tropes of high school hijinks and boy-heroism and spunky girls and so on, but it's pretty mild and generally deployed in the service of pretty good characterizations and a serious plot taken reasonably seriously.

The Less Good and the Bad--Light on Spoilers )
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My recent posts have pretty much been about RL, so I wanted to catch up with tiny thoughts on what I've been encountering in narrative.

Reading:

A Song of Ice and Fire (book 2): (It's hard to remember the name of the full series when the books don't actually put it on the cover.) I'm quite enjoying this series. I haven't read fantasy to speak of in many years and have grown to expect poor quality, but Martin is good. His prose is functional and uninspired--and occasionally incorrect, which is a bit embarrassing in text that purports to use a somewhat old fashioned English among educated characters. (It really shouldn't be too much to expect that he--or his editors--know the difference between "lay" and "lie" or what "lest" means.) That said, the story and characters are excellent. I like the dialogism inherent in the many sides of the conflict and moral ambiguity embodied in almost everyone. It gives a very real sense of quasi-medieval politics.

Watching:

Fate/Zero with a friend I'm not getting a chance to see very frequently, which is vexing because the series has grabbed me. I'm only a few episodes into this one, but if it keeps up this level of quality, it will be a winner. The series is advantaged by being a prequel about the parents of the characters in Fate/Stay Night. This means that the main characters are... parents (and uncles, etc.). This is amazingly rare in anime. Even those few series that are about adults tend to be about adults who don't have kids. Parents in anime almost always seen from their kids' perspective, i.e. semi-mystical beings who are there to be sweet or evil or make you do homework. It's intriguing to see a series that's actually from the perspective of people trying to manage their own lives/problems/feelings and be responsible for their young 'uns at the same time.

Behind the cut: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Akira, Grave of the Fireflies, Primer )
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I just finished watching Gungrave. It's good. It's not unflawed, but it's really very good. There's a lot to say about it, so I'll try to put down as much as I can think of. Plotwise, it's a friendship/revenge story about the mafia in a fantasy pseudo-America in a fantasy pseudo-mid/late 20th century. It's based on a video game, but it's a well-crafted story. Fans of good character development and friendship-antagonism, would do well to check it out.

Spoilers Follow )

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