Hideaki Anno And The Commercial Future

A recent comment by Hideaki Anno popped up in the news.  Now, this has also caused a slight amount of discussion.  I’ve copied it below if you don’t want to open a new link:

The Japanese animation industry has hit a dead end — it will be tough to escape unless we can make animation without commercial considerations. It may even be too late.

I haven’t seen a direct link to his comments so I’ll address the quote above.  I’m not sure whether or not a later interview addresses the exact same topics (as I note the difference between him stating it’s a dead-end in the quote above and how he refers to anime as breaking towards a recession in the second interview).

So, What Does It Mean?

As I read the quote, a major issue is the broad strokes that Anno speaks in.  I’m not sure if it’s as broad in the original quote as I haven’t seen it but I think it’s key to note how general Anno speaks.  It’s very, and I mean extremely, easy to get lost within the specifics of that sentence.  Pinning down the source of the frustration or the specific notion he speaks to is difficult and tenuous at best.  Anno, as I think most of us know, is a man with a great number of concerns and the one he highlights in his words is a steep task.  Deciphering meaning from such words is subjective at best I think.

My first question is what a “dead-end” represents.  Is it the end of the line?  A withdrawal from a peak?  A recession?  Or is it even about money and size of industry?  That’s a fairly blanket statement and the interpretation, while not a significant aspect to the quote, helps frame the rest of the statement.

The major aspect I’d focus on is whether the concern Anno raises is one of industry size or of commercial creativity.  I feel these are the two major possibilities when describing loss in terms of “dead ends”.  I would also feel though that the former is automatically removed because of the fact that Anno is encouraging anime without commercial consideration.  So, the first aspect is that he’s speaking of a creative dead-end.  Easy enough.

But that leads to an even larger question: what does the dead-end represent?  Is it a catastrophic failure or one of minor loss?  Of course, it’s fair to even question the relevance of such a question, but I’ve added it for completeness’ sake.

The interpretation I see is one of fear.  I think it’s fair to think of Anno as an artist first and foremost.  He’s a man who seemingly lashes out against fans, hates parts of the culture they attach to, and even take shots at some of them in his own productions.  Though he has made his peace with the otaku culture in recent years, he never really appears a fan of it or enjoys it himself…just that he doesn’t bitterly hate it.  The tone of his words combine with this ambivalence to create a real cynical look on Anno still…that he’s still only halfway attached to the field.

Attaching the analysis of his first few words and I think the statement is a very strong and pronounced concern with anime; Anno sees them heading for a cliff and is pressing for immediate action.  The statement at the end, that “it may even be too late”, reinforces that notion.

Personally, this comments here strikes reminiscent of many artistic individuals who look to develop and create new mediums.  The type of individual which never stays around after there is no new artistic merit left (well, in their opinion anyways.  I have different opinions regarding artistic form and originality that I may put in writing one day).  And I think this is consistent with Anno.  This is a man who does not work on a great number of projects and seemingly deliberately pushes everything he has a hand in different directions.  Or at least a more postmodern one.  Heck, I struggle to think of an anime he’s involved in which doesn’t use some bizarre surreal imagery at some point.

Moving on though.  This leads to the second, and probably more difficult to read, question: what are the “commercial considerations” to forgo?  What exactly is he warning about that threatens to suck the anime industry dry of the artistic merit?

And I think this is where knowing Anno’s background comes to assist the understanding.  He and Miyazaki, as I’ve noted previously, are seeming brothers-in-arms in regards to moe character design and their avid hate of it.  It’s unlikely, in my mind, that the statement and the seemingly significant presence of moe characters in modern and current anime remain unconnected.

Of course, this is only one possibility.  As I noted before, there is a further interview where he states that anime’s own success created an industry which is unsustainable economically.  This would stifle show quality and damage the further interest in anime until, in sports terms, it undergoes a full rebuild where it drops into obscurity, re-positions itself into a respectable medium once again, and comes back with a vengeance.

I’d personally be inclined to believe this second interpretation of the two I theorized.  It’s not secret that anime is struggling in the economics.  Salary is pretty much nothing and hours are insane so many of the claims Anno points at check out in a general sense.  The economics just don’t make sense for the animators.  You’re basically in a world where you’re doing your work because you like to do it for far too many hours for far too little money.  You can only expand so far until overworked individuals say enough and you lose talent at a painful rate.

(Side note: It’s actually kind of funny that one of the titles in an articles that I linked to in that Miyazaki article is “The freefall of Japan’s anime industry” given how I reference it in an a post about Anno’s concern with an industry ready to freefall)

And if we read more from this second interview, then Anno’s primarily concerned with non-standard anime production dropping.  I’ll quote a specific aspect that I think highlights his sentiments perfectly:

The lack of staff and finances has gotten to the point that people recognize they won’t be able to keep working as they are now. It’s not the kind of leisurely atmosphere that Japan needs to make animation. We can’t make animation at this scale without economic stability. When you’re working as hard as you can just to feed yourself, you can’t get joy out of your work. You’re more focused on your next meal. That’s the real problem.

[…]

I get the impression that the contemporary Japanese animation industry is running solely on the remaining fuel of the past’s enthusiasm towards animation. We need to be more flexible with our ideas, and think about how we can continue to make work that’s compelling. That’s what my project with Kawakami-san is all about. (source)

I feel a summary of Anno’s argument is: Anime is currently at a state where pursuit of maximum profits in conjunction with the current working conditions of anime employees will strain the network of employees beyond the breaking point of quality.  Anime’s production value will drop and result in uninteresting creations which will drive away fans.  This will create a dead end in anime and force a drop in the anime industry.

Such a statement follows each of the interpretations of Anno’s comments above and is consistent with his later comments.

But…Is It True?

This, of course, leads to the million dollar question which is lovingly listed above anyways.  Is anime heading down a spiral?  There are two moving parts to this question: the industry’s sustainability and the anime quality.

We first must look at sustainability.  There are two ways to observe this.  One is the company profits and the other is industry talent.  Company profits are likely consistent.  I’m not privy to much company information but I do not see many doors closing.  Sustainability at a corporate level, at least from what I’ve seen, is viable.  But what about for each employee?  I think this gets a bit more sketchy.  Anime industry, as I’ve always mentioned, is one of love.  I don’t think losing individuals is the issue.

The question boils down to the quality of anime as more projects come into production.  A helpful user once tracked anime by year.

Following a similar process, here are the data points I added for TV series for 2012 to 2014:

- 2012: 160 TV series
– 2013: 185 TV series
– 2014: 198 TV series

So there’s absolutely no question that we’re hitting unprecedented levels of new anime in production annually.  But the statistic we’re concerned about is employees per project.  And this is a point where I’m stuck.  I can’t find the number of anime employees by year.  And I think this is a major issue.  Since the start of that graph, the anime industry has undoubtedly grown and therefore there will be more employees to work with.  It’s not like there is a drop from 100 employees per project in 1996 to 25 in 2012.

But let’s say for the sake of hypothetical debate that it is true and that industry does not hire employees to keep the number of employees per project constant.  Is this impacting quality?

Well, I think this is a subjective question.  I certainly haven’t seen the unusual and interesting anime from before but I’m hardly a good source and I don’t think my familiarity with all modern anime is strong enough to make a real statement about changes today.

But what are your thoughts?  Are we heading towards an abyss and inevitable decline?  Or is this just the concerns of a man who might not have anything to concern himself with?

Anime and the World, Part 3: Animated Television

Anime has influenced the greater world of entertainment by its existence. I have previously noted this effect in the areas of live-action film and animated film.  This previous analysis, of course, ignores the most obvious (and in my opinion, the most important) influence: that of animated television.

I broke this post into sections based on the media’s origin area.  This lets us analyze a little further the origins of such development.

Note – A lot of my commentary comes from observation.  As such, I may state incorrect comments…it’s just what I’ve seen from different media.  Discussion is always interesting and I encourage responses if you disagree.

 

South Korea

I’m guessing not too many of you would put South Korea as a major influenced animation.  As an exporter, you would be right.  South Korean originated media is far less common than other major players.  But the influence of the world at large on it isn’t negligible.  South Korea is a well-known animation exporter and as a result imports animation convention from elsewhere.  It’s likely you’ve seen the fruits of their labour too as South Korea animates a great deal of anime and western animation of extremely variant quality.  From the infamous Lost Universe train wreck of animation which infamously accumulated into the Yashigani Hofuru episode (an episode so badly animated that the Korean animated version is no longer considered canon) to parts of Avatar: The Last Airbender to holding contracts with such largely known franchises as The Simpsons, it’s likely you’ve seen South Korean animation before.  Well, the business of animating other group’s works.  South Korean animation, to no surprise, takes from this wide swath of projects.  South Korean animation typically utilizes equal amounts of anime convention and Western animation convention.

This is much easier to observe with examples.  First up is a new-ish series, Hello Jadoo.  I honestly haven’t seen much of this franchise but I’m sure the anime and Western animation influence leaks through screenshots.

I…don’t know what’s going on here.

These frames make the anime influence quite obvious in this franchise.  The super deformed and chibi style proportions, massive visual expression in the face, and very distinct foreground/backgrounds are all very systematic and integrated aspects of anime.  But it isn’t all anime: anime heavily relies on sharp contrasting angles.  You can see that in the first image.  Yet the second image falls more as Western animation.  And, much more to the compare to an anime, the show features simplified hair whereas anime gets a massive and well-known reputation for extravagance in that facial aspect.  Of course, this doesn’t suggest that anime purely lives and dies off complex and intricate hair, but that this is one of anime’s calling cards.

On the opposite end, we have Aachi and Ssipak, a totally not safe for kids animation.

I…uh…what the hell?

Screw it. My sanity just dropped.

These frames, especially the latter, call from Western animation greatly.  Again, simplified hair is a terrific indicator here.  The formation of the character’s mouth and nose as much more visible than in anime, well-known for understating both of these points (heck, the general rules anime style tabletop game named itself Big Eyes, Small Mouth) greatly reflect the Western animation side.  Yet signs such as the first frame also reflect the anime angle (with an image style used to the point of parody).  The mixture creates an interesting result and South Korean original animation works as a hybrid of both systems.

 

“Western Animation” Europe

The title is clunky, yes.  I can’t speak for all Europe’s animation though as I haven’t seen a great side of it.  I’m familiar with the side exported to North America and, as such, will speak to that.

The integration of animated media in Europe deals primarily with borrowing much of the style outright.  I’m not sure I can explain this phenomenon at any level as it always seemed strange to me.  At any rate, the influences are both visual and trope based.  One could consider this almost outright “borrowing” the entire medium of anime as oppose to really merging it with other aspects.  That said, it is never a 100% conversion and differences in style remain.  But, as I contrast later, the amount of anime dutifully brought into their animation, when called, is much greater.

French cartoon Wakfu first came to mind as I typed the above.

I’m pretty sure that orange haired guy’s a ghost. His absolute lack of pupils tells me so.

Not sure if Slayers food joke or bloodlust…

The show highlights that anime styled right right away.  Complex and unusual hairstyles litter those images.  And yet this not the only place where Wakfu keeps those roots obvious.  Character traits frequently note its origin.  The character I jokingly describe as a ghost above, named Sadlygrove, rolls many shonen audience anime together…he’s a book dumb, overconfident, fighter who charges in headfirst.  I’m not sure how many different young male anime protagonists that describes.  Then the character on the far left of the first image, Eva, is an extremely competent fighter who acts as the group’s sanity metre and holds a fairly traditional tsundere personality towards her love interest.  This, again, measures very well against common anime trope convention.

Of even more fame, and of personal connection to my own anime history, are the cartoons created by Marathon Media, another French company.  While Totally Spies their most famous production, I’ll focus on one I’m much more familiar with as I’m Canadian and the show had enough Canadian effort to meet CRTC requirements (also, it’s just a better example in some areas): Martin Mystery.

Marathon Media apparently does crossovers.  This is a Super Saiyan, right?

Marathon Media apparently does crossovers. This is a Super Saiyan, right?

So...um...yeah.

So…um…yeah.

Again, the anime influence should come through clearly.  Marathon‘s original signature style included a visual style very similar to common anime.  The characters reflect a high level of detail to hair, a common eye style (see the first image), and a tendency to turn to super deformed characters at the show’s sillier moments at rates not seen since Rayearth.  The second image has nothing on the rest of the show.  And much like Wakfu above, Martin Mystery utilizes fairly common anime convention for its target audience (younger males): slightly book-dumb hero and an irritable tsundere female lead.  Oh, not to mention a pure love of overplayed emotions such as gushing eyes.

But Martin Mystery also effectively highlights a deviation from the anime style.  It’s small and somewhat subtle but effectively reflects the small deviation these anime-styled cartoons contain.  The first image shows us an outline of a character’s face.  The chin’s style, one which points forward and with a high degree of sharp contrasting angles, is a visual style similar to more Western cartoons.  This actually lightens and becomes less notable in later seasons which indicates a shift towards a more anime specific art style.

To get a strong sense of this level of faithful following of anime convention, I’ll contrast it to American animation.

 

USA

There is a great deal of contrast that animation from Europe exported as “Western animation”.  As I mention earlier, the approach is very different; USA approaches anime with an homage” mentality in mind in contrast to European “borrowing”.  The common aspects including satirizing the convention (such as gratuitous poor lip syncing) and integrating only certain conventions in.  An old example (and I’m sure you can tell by now that I love old examples) comes from Megas XLR.  You know, I feel kind of old as I can name this show very easily.

All the missiles is the best attack ever.

 

I find Megas XLR is the epitome of American animation in regards to anime as it represents the typical treatment of anime in these shows: the show utilizes elements of the style but not it in its entirety.  For example, the premise of Megas XLR is very much aligned with anime.  The basic concept is that the protagonists are defending Earth from alien invaders by use of giant robots.  Mecha in the animated medium is, by and large, still an anime narrative.  I made the description above so general that it actually could describe Evangelion.  Or Fafner.  Or most apocalyptic mecha anime.

But Megas XLR doesn’t take anything else.  It takes a primarily Western setting, namely New Jersey.  Also very evident is its more Western animation-styled art which gets even more evident when considering character designs (well, except for the female protagonist).  It also takes many character personalities with Western blends.  The male protagonist is Coop, a fat slob with no training.  And as far as I can remember, none of the above improve.  His sidekick, if you’d like to call it that, is another unemployed man with no real consistent positive traits.  These are characters fairly distinct from the traditional leading teams compared to anime.  Characters with such traits typically develop out of them, even in comparing a comedic lead.  The standard “lovable loser” that animated shows love tying themselves to shares change between anime and Western animation; the anime protagonist typically develops.  This provides most of the thrust in harem protagonists (and I mean most as there are exceptions) and provides the development of Shinji Ikari, probably the most famous “can’t catch a break” anime protagonist I can imagine.  Now, this difference’s existence could stem from cultural differences as Welcome to the HNK and Watamote provide examples possibly closer to the traditional Western animation, but then I’d consider that Western animation flavours itself in the routine comedy…the repeated episodes day after day.  Either option is quite possible and distinguishes itself from anime, a medium with more fluidity and possibly less episodic nature.

Which, of course, leads us to the possibility of more serious Western animation.  Does such a topic exist greatly?  It’s more difficult to find answers but this standard hybridization seems to exist.  I pulled from Xiaolin Showdown, a program oriented with a slightly-serious-but-slightly-children oriented show.

A similar situation appears where the show only pulls from aspects of anime.  As the second picture attests to, it also calls on the overreaction and visual comedy in anime.  This actually exists as the show’s standout in the regard (from what I recall – it’s been years since I’ve viewed the show).  Yet it also calls on more Western character development.  The characters fall into Western cycles, such as a man who typically doesn’t get upset unless you disturb his clothing, and an arrogant and haughty master of martial arts (and Asian to boot!).

Are their higher target audience examples?  The 10-20 audience typically encompass the focus audiences of the above two shows.  Well, less so.   Unfortunately, Western animation carries stigma of “child things”.  It’s rare and difficult to admit fandom of Western animation as an older individual.  It’s rare to break that stigma and the companies play up on it by rarely, if ever, testing mature Western animations.  It’s difficult to find comparable animation projects to some anime as a result.

Of course, all these rules are by no means hard and fast.  It’s very easy to come up with exceptions.  Franchises such as Avatar (well, the television series) and Teen Titans would contrast against the trends listed above, both being extremely similar in trope usage and animation style to more traditional anime.  Communities tend to acknowledge Avatar: The Last Airbender in this regard though and groups sometimes lump that fandom in with anime fandom.

 

Japan

And as the final topic, I want to bring the topic full circle and discuss how anime’s opening to the world influences anime.  Change in the medium is impossible to deny and it’s unfair to think of anime as only influencing and not influenced by such exchange.  Like many examples above, considering case studies are easier as, obviously, there are still no solid rules or total shifts…just examples.

The most famous I know of its Cowboy Bebop‘s premise, which borrows the Western genre very heavily.  This almost borrows completely from the USA styled semi-borrowing of style; Cowboy Bebop is carefully and meticulously anime in art form but borrows many narrative tropes from anime.  True…it hold enough different genres that one of them must have Western origins, but the narrative of an “old West” space narrative distinctly draws the “old West” part from American culture.

Probably of even more Western animation style though is The Big O.

Remind me to order lots of androids when they come out.

This anime is very unique as it borrows heavily from the Batman franchise. I’m sure it’s plainly obvious in the image above but the male protagonist, Roger Smith, parallels Bruce Wayne in many regards.  Lots of toys, an insanely exquisite car, and a no guns policy.  Yup, that’s pretty much Batman.  The show as a whole is an incredible blend of the two styles, mixing the traditional concepts of anime (such as the female character above, R. Dorothy Wayneright, holding many traits similar to the ever-popular Rei Ayanami) but also giving a heavy Western animation and cultural injection.  Animation certainly borrows from both animation styles, giving Dorothy a distinctly anime image with a lack of focus on mouth or nose to contrast with Roger Smith’s hybrid appearance (borrowing heavily from the studio’s last project of Batman: The Animated Series).  Then there are the aforementioned Batman lines and the film noir influences with many of the artistic choices coming straight from this genre.

And ultimately, this is where I hope anime goes.  These hybrids, these mixtures of cultures, are some of my favourite media ever.  This reaching between styles gives wildly unique results and, while obviously not all of them well succeed, the uniqueness makes interesting results.  Experimentation, such as The Big O above, creates inventive media.

But I digress, this post intends to describe the different ways anime influences the world’s artistic choice in animated television.  The four focuses included animation from South Korea, select Europe (again, only the ones I’ve seen myself), North America, and Japan itself.  The  international exchanges create a straight up direct mixture in South Korea, gets some wholesale borrowing in some European animation, and creates a blend in both North American and Japanese animation.

As this writing project wraps up, I must admit that I never really expected to complete it.  There are so many different rabbits to chase in the discussion that I intentionally limited my writing and length to prevent posts of insane length.  This one is by far the longest (reaching around 2500 words).  I know I haven’t touched on a great deal of subjects here and maybe a further, more detailed discussion comes up in the future.  Until then though, I hope this sparks a little discussion on the influence (and future of) anime.

Self-Identity and the Nature of Fandom

Alright, I know I am in the middle of a series, but I really need to list discuss this as I’ve tried to write about this topic several times but trash it before completion.

It’s about how we, as fans, react to attacks against our beloved media.

Let me first start by discussing the notion of partisan politics (well, Wikipedia calls it “polarization”).  It’s a fairly complex discussion point but this is an anime blog not a political one…so I’ll try to boil it down for you.

Partisan politics is often defined as sticking to your party’s (or your ideological leaning’s) principles.  It is often looked at as an irrationality, a “with us or against us” mentality which puts it into terms of “with my opinion or against it”.  There is great scrutiny about what process dictates partisanship but it creates a clashes between different groups based on these leanings.  People identify themselves by their party and internalize the values of the party.  This makes any attack against that party a personal attack and creates a much more personal level to the situation.

The above paragraph is somewhat technical so let me supplement it with an example.  Let’s say I live in a country with only two political allegiance: Alpha and Omega.  I normally determine which party I vote for by checking my own values and deciding, based on that and what the parties stand for, that I am most in-line with being either Alpha or an Omega.  But my rationale as a partisan voter is different.  My partisan reasoning would be that I am an Alpha therefore I would agree with Alpha values.  Instead of defining my political stance according to my own beliefs, my beliefs adjust to the political party.

This is a major issue in regards to debating issues.  Filtering out information that is not advantageous to supporting the predetermined position is a major facet of this partisanship.  Of course, this is more than a little debatable but I’ll try keeping this simple and not spend the entire post explaining various factors I believe are at play.  We can certainly debate the meaningfulness of the effects at another point.  Anyways, as this partisanship and polarization becomes a major factor, a filter for information begins to form.  Put simply, the information beneficial to the person’s side reinforces their opinion and they remember it easier while they throw out contradictory information to their stance.  There’s a quote that I’d like to use for this.

Here’s how politics works. There are always two sides. Let’s call them the “reds” and the “blues.”

If you’re a red, the goal is to make the blues look as bad as possible. If you’re a blue, the goal is to make the reds look as bad as possible. If they do something good, you ignore it. If they do something bad, you let as many people know as possible.

Have they raised money for a mental health charity? Don’t report that! Did they kickstart a project to help young women get ahead in game development? Definitely don’t report that! Did one of them send someone a death threat? Stop the presses, we need to get the story out now!

It’s pretty much as simple as that when it comes to bias.  It simply boils down to cherry picking what’s retained.  And this obviously builds a major issue.  All information is information.  Data is data.  Facts are facts.  Losing sight of facts makes it difficult to make well-grounded arguments.  Extreme cases of this bias creates the loud and angry sides yelling at each other on TV.  Two sides that refuse to acknowledge the other side’s valued points. This is when things get scary as the opinion that the individuals generate is not founded in thought anymore.

Now everything I’ve talked about includes only politics until now.  But it’s very easy to extend the argument to other subjects…and that’s where I get scared.  It’s easy to shift the topics from political parties and hot-topic issues to that of fandoms.  Consider movies, video games, anime, or other entertainment areas for example.  To mirror my words above, I may normally determine where I stand on anime related issues by checking my own values and deciding, based on that where I stand on the topic.  However, if I’m partisan in this topic, my would be that I am an anime fan/not an anime fan and therefore I would take the stance of this nebulous group.  It’s a bit of a stretch but I believe that the issues that laden partisan topics rear their heads in entertainment topics…and, of course, it’s this topic I’ll focus on from here on out.

The biggest reason I think these issues could come up is because, at its heart, part of partisanship is the emotional attack.  That an attack on the stance is an attack against the person.  This is just as easy to manage in entertainment mediums as in politics.  Key political divisions include those which ask about morality: abortion, right to die peacefully, and topics of that ilk.  These topics get people emotionally involved and many consider them “wedge issues”, issue which end up dividing groups.  Connecting this back to entertainment, these topics already strike close to home: it’s an entertainment medium and the fans actively pursue it.  An attack against the medium easily translates as an attack on the person because of this close emotional tie.  Blinded vision takes the statement as stated above and sometimes removes the possibility of seeing the validity of the other opinion, a problem as the commentary may have good commentary in it.

An excellent example of that comes from the recent treatment of a CNN report about anime.  It deals with a recently passed law which does not extend towards the anime and manga industry.  Below is their video commentary.  As I still attempt to follow my site’s PG-13 general trend, I’ll make the same announcement news stations give: some may find the content offensive.

The article is poorly done.  There’s no two ways around it.  It’s sensationalist.  Many people will point out that the “explicit” material they censor is nothing more than a slightly violent cover.  A much calmer story about the loophole of anime and manga would suffice.  Maybe it’s just me, but this is what I expect out of traditional news sources these days…pure view bait.  Country doesn’t matter…views generate money and controversy generates views.

But this is where things take a weird turn for me.  Fans watch this article and spin it in directions that make no sense.  I’ll link one below.  If you’re The Anime Fan or one of his viewers, please note that I have the utmost respect for him.   I feel somewhat jealous that he’s comfortable voicing his opinions in a video as I kind of hate my own voice.  I get that this video is a rant and I understand the frustration.  I use his because another user linked the video to me in conjunction with the topic of the CNN post and I have a response from that topic on hand from that topic.

And I’ll take an excerpt from the topic I mentioned above.  I directly address a couple of points in this video and they seem to differ from the rant’s commentary.

[The Anime Man’s] claims don’t match the points in the article and he’s obviously ranting without fully determining how he should pick apart CNN’s article. And it is reactions like this that sometimes scare me. His points aren’t purely founded in fact – he makes connections which clearly don’t make sense if you watch the video. For example, [he] describes it as if the journalist claims there is something wrong with the Love Hina scene (a traditional hot tub scene – I don’t like fanservice and it’s not my cup of tea, but I have no problem with its existence). The reporter says nothing of the kind. He says, and I’m quoting here, “But these are not children and they’re not being r***d. There’s a big difference”. A simple cursory listen will catch that he doesn’t accuse Love Hina of anything like the material he has problems with. This is a sinfully painful inaccurate accusation for [The Anime Man] to make.

Of course, I’m not one to purely pick on one man here.  Everybody makes mistakes and I admit I have a large pile of error posts which I try to own up to when they show up.  Except the concern is the seemingly frequency of such errors.  A petition, actually, multiple petitions go into the method of painting CNN’s argument with a fairly broad stroke (I will say though that the final of the three petitions is fairly well-reasoned in the sense that they don’t focus on the “sexually explicit argument”.  It is arguable though since they never claimed the cover was really bad and even verbally comment “there’s blood there”.  Why CNN censored the cover is up to interpretation  It could be sensationalist or possibly just allowing it to air without issuing a “disturbing content” warning).

And it’s this side of interpretation differences that concern me.  To so degree, I think CNN has an actual story hidden behind the layers of sensationalism and silliness: that anime and manga were no covered as part of the latest law and that there are explicit imagines in some anime and manga.  Does it go much past that?  No.  But I think that argument actually exists.  I’m not sure I agree with it but I think there’s still the argument.  And my fear is sometimes that emotional investment and the anger associated with a personal attack on the hobby causes individuals to ignore that point and to simple build straw men that make it easier to attack the other position.
Let me state that, through all of this, I’m an anime fan.  I can’t think of any other way to describe a person who spends time dreaming about how anime influences the world, who blogs until the early morning about the nuances of anime, and spends an inordinate amount of time putting anime-esc characters in medium that may or may not be anime-esc to begin with.  Anime is part of my identity and it’s hard for me to imagine a world where I’m stripped of my favourite characters, shows, and music…all of which originate from anime or visual novels.  But I also want to keep open dialogue.  Ensuring that the correct statements transfer and that they are properly interpreted is key to understanding debate.  Using the CNN example again, I’m not sure that their point makes sense.  In fact, there are plenty of individuals out there who read it and got the correct statement and rejected it for different reasons.  But what I do want to see is that people interpret the commentary correctly before deciding on it.  A response that occurs because of the close emotional ties without consideration of argument and reasoning itself rarely helps.

Anime and the World, Part 2: Animated Films

So, my last post looked at how anime has influenced live-action movies.  This post, following that idea, extends to anime its forces on animated films.  More specifically, how anime directs the direction of animated movies.

One of the major, and probably most obvious, shifts is in the animation style.  I’ll use a simple example: the Disney princesses.  To the unfamiliar, it is simply a collection of the Disney female protagonists.  A chronological ordering of them is below:

Now, let’s consider a couple elements of anime art.  First and most obvious is eye size and style.  Anime is well known for its amazingly large eyes compared to the rest of the face.  While the best known examples worldwide tend to break this habit (coughMiyazakicough), this is probably one of the most iconic aspects of the anime art form.  Consider, for example, the general RPG rulebook Big Eyes, Small Mouth.  It is a game designed to emulate anime and allow tabletop game players a route to role play the anime atmosphere.  The fact that this game book even uses the definition of “big eyes” should be an indicator about how important famous this aspect of anime art is.

Random side note – It actually is kind of fun and recursive when there are rumours that the design of anime characters was influenced by the disproportionate eye size of cartoon character Betty Boop.  But that’s a story for another day.

But why bring this up?  Well, look at the “princesses” above.  We can see a distinct shift in many of the characters drawn since 1989.  You can see a major proportion change of the eyes.  Considering the increased focus attention anime had since that time, it seems a possibility that this style in anime shifted to Western animated films like this Disney franchise.  Of course, this is a jump of logic in that correlation equates to causation. and it is entirely possible that this is just pure and random coincidence.  However, it does seem less likely when the shape of the eyes are also considered.  Another distinct aspect of anime eyes is a reflection of light, often highlighted as a white dot.

I literally picked the first result from searching “anime character”

What interest this brings is the correlation this causes with the animated characters above.  You can see that this is distinctly visible reflection of a similar variety after the long jump in years.  In fact, if you search the original frames of the human characters in Disney’s older animated films, you will find their pupils are fully shaded as oppose to having a slight reflection ala anime characters (again, images were grabbed with really quick Google searches).

I think this subtle shift reflects a major adjustment in the animation style, one that comes from the anime industry likely.  There are countless examples of older anime from between this gap of time which show this distinction.  I’ll just add an example below using Lupin III’s pilot from 1969.  The best looks is probably around 6:44 or 6:45.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2aaLMme644

Of course, this again doesn’t prove absorption of animation style.  I would suggest, however, that this is a fairly strong case and would warrant further consideration as a vector of communication between anime and English associated animated films.

Conversely, one strongly proven aspect of influence is in outsourced or co-produced works.  This connection would seem obvious at first blush but it is worth mentioning since there are a large number of works which reflect this; there are some examples of animated films released in North America hiring Japanese animation studies for their work.  No where is this more apparent in my mind than the animated rendition of The Hobbit.  I’ve attached a short clip below.  Though the title goes without saying (and seriously, did you NOT expect this to happen?), there are minor spoilers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kejj4_bRj-s

Smaug is probably the most anime styled dragon I’ve seen in a while.

Now, what makes this truly interesting and a strong link to me is the studio which worked on this film.  Much of the animation team later worked together in Studio Ghibli later.  There was a strong working relationship between these animators and Rankin/Bass Productions.  The animation of The Last Unicorn was done by the same group.

Another great example of this is the Transformers franchise, which had its iconic first season animated by Toei.  Actually, a lot of Toei’s work can be place here period…most are television shows and would be subject to another post.

Of course, the influences aren’t purely limited to the visual.  It’s important to recognize that, much like the film side, tropes are often carried over for historical reasons.  I won’t rehash that discussion, and as such this post will feel short…but I don’t think it’s worth repeating (that and I’m dead tired right now).

Yeah…this post is short.  I know that.  I think a major aspect which limits the connection between the film side with anime is the focus of most anime on the episodic form.  There are some influences on the movie industry but they are somewhat limited because the singular focus is on Miyazaki’s preferences…him being the singular popular figurehead of anime film.

The next topic, and probably the longest, will focus on how anime has influenced other animated television.

Anime and the World, Part 1: Live-Action Hollywood

It’s been a while since I’ve done a real long series.  These are always fun and interesting things for me to write about.

Anime is a genre which exists on a global stage.  I sometimes call it niche but it ultimately plays with connections to the world.  It influences the world and the world influences it.  But how is it these groups interact?  What does anime send out to the world?  What does it influence?  And how is it influenced by the world?  My focus in this series is looking at these questions for connections between the “world at large” and anime.

First up is Hollywood.  Well, the live-action side of it.  The fabled story of anime’s interaction with animated Hollywood is much longer than I care to type up in a single post like this.  It’s one of the largest groups in terms of economic size.  I mean, it influences most movies you can find in theatres (this goes double in North America).  The concept of anime influencing Hollywood is an amazing thought as it’s almost a self-desired validation for fans: I am a fan of something touching a big place like Hollywood.  Of course, the reaction is much more hostile.  You can find page after page after page of sites claiming that Hollywood is taking pages out of anime’s books.  Now, and this is a story for another future post, I won’t claim that this is my stance; I believe that as we edge towards the future the concept of original works is going to diminish and creating truly original art without copying something else is going to become more and more impossible.

What I will say is that the two are not entirely separated.

The first connection is the very obvious Hollywood anime movie.  I’ll groan with you.  Ugh.

This, as shallow as it is, is one of the most well-known connections between anime and Hollywood.  The premise itself is simple in that it’s live adaptation of the anime.  It’s a simple extension of options for making money.  The premise is tried and true: the anime is popular.  Of course!  Well, as you probably know as well as I do, these movies are pretty much universally terrible.  Hollywood does not do an effective job of translation.  The best example I can give you is the abortion of a movie, Dragonball Evolution.

I’ll give you 5 bucks to bury this movie and all its copies in a fiery lake.

It’s based on the fabled Dragonball franchise, as the name suggests.  This is a lot of source material to work with.  I mean, Dragonball Z is a gateway anime.  A very popular gateway anime for of us who grew up in the mid-90’s at that.  It’s hard to imagine that such a movie would be a disaster, right?  Well, as I’ve hinted to above, it really did end up poorly.  I won’t bore you with the details.  Just let CinemaSins sum it up for you.

So, yeah.  And it’s not like Hollywood’s repertoire past that is much better.  See: Speed Racer, which at best is mediocre.  Or Crying Freeman.  Or Guyver.  Or even movie-based-on-cult-classic-Korean-film-based-on-manga Oldboys.  This is pretty much up there with video game movies right now.

Why is this though?  I personally suspect the problem is two-fold.  First is the issue of budgeting.  Most of these movies don’t have huge budgets.  The biggest of the above worked off of was Speed Racer (120 million), which had a larger budget than all the other movies I mentioned (approximated as about 70 million).  Low budgets likely come from lack of confidence.  I think there’s the same problem here as with most (not all) video game franchise movies: the translation isn’t a sure thing.  The anime may have a huge following, sure, but there’s no proven model for making anime movies a huge success.  We should remember that the funding teams likely know nothing about what they’re funding other than its previous success rate in the field.  And this doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon given the anime live-adaptations out there.  Though, fingers crossed.

Thankfully, anime interacts with Hollywood in other ways.

The second, and much larger field, is influencing directing style.  This field is also much softer and probably more fuzzy in my definition.  Let’s start with an easy one to make this make sense: Pacific Rim.

Every time I look up an image from this movie, all I hear is the theme.

Pacific Rim is probably the best example to look at because its director, Guillermo del Toro, openly admits his influences and points it out as a love letter to the anime he watched as a kid.  From art design to back story to plot, everything done in Pacific Rim has the anime mentality going for it.  Let’s start with art since I love talking about giant robots.  The protagonists use a mecha named Gipsy Danger.  Its weapons are a walking super robot reference facility.  On its chest is a turbine which happens to shoot out massive blasts of energy.  Also, it has rocket powered fists.  It pretty much is a remade Mazinger Z in this weapon layout.  Other mechs contain designs obviously influenced (and then del Toro admitted) by mobile suits, including the Guncannon (Coyote Tango) and Zaku (Cherno Alpha.  Though this one I wasn’t aware of until del Toro came clean).  Heck, this spills into the posters which look just like the anime mecha model kits you buy.

Let’s not forget the narrative either.  The story very much follows the post-apocalyptic narrative that populated anime frequently in the ’80s and ’90s.  To further this thinking, you have a hot-blooded hero who is thrown into the ring with a rookie who does well in practice but is never given a shot.  Both are fairly stock anime characters.  The former embodies almost every stock super robot protagonists while the latter also happens to show many links to the common anime archetype of the Yamato Nadeshiko.

It is so bad that there are anime fans out there claiming that it’s an Evangelion rip off.  That, of course, ignoring the fact that del Toro never heard of Evangelion until he wrapped up Pacific Rim.

But this isn’t even the biggest influence.  No…the biggest is in the invoked tropes.  Every aspect of Pacific Rim is written so it is predictable.  Every little “twist”, from who pilots Gipsy Danger to the durability of the final enemy to the character development in the film are all expected events.  Many run down films for this very point but between marketing and footage it’s clear that this movie’s narrative isn’t serious.  The phrase “you know [x] is going to happen” occurs multiple times in regards to the narrative and that is appears perfectly intentional as the tropes it runs are very close to the ones found in mecha anime, both real and super.  I certainly won’t bore you with the details here as I’m tired and this post is getting much longer than I really can describe for this limited connection, but you can certainly see a description in this article by the Artiface.  And in Pacific Rim, this is entirely intentional.  It’s easy to run down as simple and extremely cliche driven if you’re an anime fan but I feel this is what del Toro intended.  Every cliche is so drawn out that there is no element of surprise.  The movie, as much as it may seem silly to compare, is very comparable to the Transformers franchise as they heavily rely on fans knowing what will happen so that they can purely enjoy the concept of giant fighting robots.  Simple as that.

Pacific Rim is such an easy example to work with because of its obviousness.  Many films draw from the genre but do it in much subtler manners.  TRON: Legacy is a subtler example and focuses on anime character types.  Quorra, for example, is a bookish girl who happens to be absolutely comfortable kicking people around and taking numbers.  I honestly can’t tell you how many times that shows up in anime but let’s just leave it as “lots”.  The graphics are commonly compared to that of Speed Racer.  Take of that what you will but the sequences certainly have a bit of that feel.

So with that example, I’d suggest that the influence of anime on Hollywood greatly comes from this pattern of homages and tributes.  Movies will sometimes copy great scenes from anime and will reflect a great love.  Rarely does this come as heavy and frequent as Pacific Rim but they certainly exist.  I digress though and major issues in terms of transferring stylistic choice from an animated medium to a live one is very difficult.  That’s about as much as I can link the two.  These two fields are fairly difficult to connect since you’re crossing an animation barrier and certain tricks work in each field that flop in the other.  Most live-action adaptations fail fairly hard.  Homages exist and this is probably the biggest influence you’ll see in movies in regard to anime.

So, what next?  That next topic is the neighbour of the live-action Hollywood film…the animated film.

Review: Boogiepop Phantom

Please, if you see this individual, just don’t run. You’ll only make yourself tired.

Background

The Boogiepop franchise is an interesting oddity: it is a fairly large and expansive set of light novels in Japan but never really crossed the ocean or anywhere else.  The novels have sold over 2 million copies in Japan in 2000.  That’s quite a large number given the time.  In a much larger market (and I mean much larger), everything Haruhi has sold a “mere” 8 million.  I know that sounds like a lot, but when you consider the cultural impact Haruhi has, you get a sense of how important Boogiepop is to the light novel landscape.  In fact, it’s sometimes argued that the light novel trend originated from Boogiepop.

What followed was a foray of this franchise into the anime landscape.  MADHOUSE, pretty much a household producer name (Chobits, Death Note, Monster, Paranoia Agent, Trigun…they’ve got a long list of greatest hits), took it upon themselves to bring the franchise’s unique narrative style (more on this later) to the television screen.  And Boogiepop Phantom is the result.  The studio went to Takashi Watanabe for direction.  He showed success in the Slayers franchise and would later tag his name to many other projects (He became part of the Shakugan no Shana franchise as the director and Death Note as a storyboard writer).  For sound they asked the prolific Yota Tsuruoka to step in.  He also has a massive resume today.  Top billing probably goes to the Clannad franchise but you come real close to saying he’s done pretty much every anime you know.

Story

Okay.  Let’s start off with this: you won’t fully understand much of the main story in Boogiepop Phantom without reading two light novels first: Boogiepop and Others and Boogiepop at Dawn.  The anime connects the two events and concludes the events of the former.  Instead of a traditional description of the back story, I’ll explain what happened before to a level where one can understand the events.

Nagi Kirima, a schoolgirl, grew at an abnormally fast rate and was dying as a result.  The hospital admitted her and tried to take care of her and her condition.  Shinpei Kuroda, an agent for the Towa Organization, befriended her.  He went behind the organization’s back and administered a drug to Kirima to prevent her from growing at abnormal pace.  The organization executed him soon after.

Dr. Kisugi, a resident general doctor, found remains of the Towa Organization’s drug.  She tested it on rats and found it created incredible powers in the subjects.  So she did the natural thing and tried it on herself.  Naturally, things go sideways and she becomes a composite human.  Composite humans are kind of nuts most of the time and she becomes a mass murderer, killing strong-willed girls because she was addicted to their fear.  Kirima, investigating the murders, found her and with the aid of Boogiepop, the whispered “angel of death”, killed the insane doctor.

A monster named Manticore, escaped one month ago.  It is a failed clone of a highly evolved alien, Echoes.  Echoes, sent by its race to elvaulate humans, monitored earth and could only repeat what was said to it as a way of limiting its power.  The Towa Organization captured it and tried to clone it…unsuccessfully.  That created Manticore.  Anyways, Manticore killed a normal schoolgirl named Minako Yurihara and assumed her identity.  During this time, another school student named Masami Saotome discovered this switch and, instead of killing Saotome, struck a deal with him: the two would addict students to an addictive drug named Type S which would enslave the user to the distributor of the drug.  Then Manticore would eat the individuals for substanance once the experiment concluded. Echoes the Towa Organization to find the Manticore and met Kirima, who at this point is very much aloof and on the outside of traditional society.  Saotome and Manticore, realizing they are being investigated and chased, set a trap for them.  Echoes is critically injured in the fight and, in a final attempt to get rid of the fiend, turns itself into a pillar of light.  The pillar destroys Manticore with the assistance of Boogiepop and Saotome, having fallen in love with Manticore, kills himself by jumping into the pillar.

The events of Boogiepop Phantom deal with the events arising from the pillar of light.  One month after the fight, the entire city is covered in a strong electromagnetic field and a large aurora.

This is really as far as I can describe the narrative without giving anything away.  But I can describe the narrative style.  The light novels take a vignette approach to the narrative and show you a very short story focusing on one character.  Then it’ll shift its focus in the next section.  And then another character.  And so on and so on.  Boogiepop Phantom continues this tradition; every episode follows a specific character and follows their adventure through the supernatural events that overtake this unnamed city.  Each character has their own troubles and some react more positively than others to the situation.  The grand sum of all these side stories is a greater narrative that is not directly created and a climax that is not directly built until it reveals itself to us all.

And I love every second of it.  This form of storytelling may feel a little meandering and disoriented at times but they effectively tell a narrative in a unique manner.  But why do this?  It makes the narrative even more interesting through the mystery.  This occurs in multiple regards.  First and foremost is the anime’s main narrative.  We are treated to a shot of the pillar of light mentioned above.  It knocks out all the electronics in the entire city for a second before everything restarts as if nothing happened.  That seeds the question “how is this important?”.  And this question slowly rises and creates further questions as the narrative progresses.  This pull is a major driving force of the narrative.

Second in mystery is the interrelation of each narrative.  Virtually every story connects to another.  For example, there is a creepy guy in episode 1 who seems mostly perverted.  The next episode focuses on him and what is happening to him.  There is very little waste in this regard with only a couple of episodes focused on events that will not drive questions or imply certain answers.  This seemingly tangential narrative begins pushing the viewer in certain directions and will feed the first mystery I listed above.

Also, eating bugs. That’s relevant.

Finally, each character presents their own mystery.  Each character you see is, at the core, a fairly blank slate.  A few will be recurring from the light novels but largely this is an original cast.  And after a few episodes you’ll know they all largely have deep-seeded mental issues in addition to their odd behaviour.  Part of the mystery and attraction then becomes why this character acts this way in addition to what happens to them.   In that regard, the psychology becomes a major aspect of the anime and the characters’ intentions become a major driving force.

The anime borders bleak and depressing at times.  One of the major aspects of this anime is the negative influence of the supernatural; the fallout of the pillar of light is almost entirely negative.  Many episodes end of a depressing note and one managed to break my heart completely before the first half the episode ended.

Interestingly, this bleak tone also wraps into a slight horror aspect in the anime.  Boogiepop Phantom is hard to define with genres and most oft for the horror label.  It isn’t entirely hard to see why as many character aspects are unsettling at best.  See the picture above of a guy eating a yellow spider with intense determination.  Uncertainty plays its way into many aspects and creates the same unsettling tone.  The body count seems unusually high too with some fairly messy deaths.  I’d personally describe the anime as more psychological than horror but these aspects certainly commonly attribute themselves to the horror genre.

What is probably the most impressive aspect of Boogiepop Phantom, for all the comments I’ve made above, is the ability to drive home focused messages.  The characters often face similar root issues and their inability to influence such a problem becomes a key fatal flaw.  I won’t go into much detail here but the topic of change, escapism, and loss are major discussion points of the anime.

I think one’s love for this anime can be probably described in a major aspect of the narrative: asynchronous.  Many time cards are shown to assist in the understanding of when and where each event happened.  Many find this type of non-linear narrative annoying and frustrating.  Those who do will absolutely lose their mind watching Boogiepop Phantom as the same event’s outcome reflect through the eyes of many different individuals.  Those that aren’t likely will find the anime entertaining and enjoyable.

Characters

As mentioned previously, the narrative takes a vignette form.  Virtually every episode will introduce a new character (and some with multiple introductions per episode), give them a full history, and then end their arc.  This makes it pretty much impossible for me to discuss the characters as I traditionally do.

What I will say however is that the character roster is deep, round, and varied.  One of the greatest aspects of the anime is the strong ensemble cast; motivation, characterization, and result vary greatly.  This depth and broadness plays in an incredible manner as many viewers will find their own issues reflected onto them.  I find this even more meaningful in today’s world where the topic of escapism via medium is becoming larger and larger.   In many regards, the darkest aspects of such topics will come out.  One could read it as a partial deconstruction as it reflects how these traits and supernatural events don’t mix…at all.

To some level, I suspect most viewers will find a character to attach themselves to.

Animation

One will notice the “washed out” palette right away.   The entire world is painted in brown, grey, and black to a large degree.  Many shots are night shots.  It’s not like this is just an unconscious choice either as the final episode takes this out completely and gives an episode in traditional anime colours.  The second effect will be the faded and faux projector effects to the border of the screen.  While both are intentional for reasons you’ll likely figure out later in the anime, they are very interesting effects to the animation and will make it stand out in your collection because of the dull colouring.

A major aspect that really intrigues me about Boogiepop Phantom is the fairly realistic character design in animation.  Anime has a large tradition of having characters with outrageous hairstyles and hair colour.  Boogiepop Phantom averts that nearly completely.  For the most part hair colour, hairstyle, and eye colour will reflect what one would expect in any given high school.  Few anime avert these traditional tropes this completely and will stand out for this reason as well.

Now, the above comes as both a positive and a negative though.  On the positive, it is unique.  Extremely so because anime loves utilizing unusual hair colours and styles to their largest effect.  However, I will also note that it becomes sometimes difficult to separate and distinguish characters.  On first view, I didn’t make every connection possible because I often visually identify characters…in particular, the last episode when the colour scheme becomes more vibrant.

The animation can be brutal at times.  What little combat exists is done swiftly.  Action is fast paced but short-lived.  And this isn’t even going to the horror aspect of the anime which can be very, very graphic.  One particularly gory scene has body parts of a recently killed individual.  And the body parts shift during transportBlood rarely appears in the anime but when it does it’s used to its most unsettling effect.  And common jump scares with utterly creepy characters are utilized at least once.

You go ahead and stay.  I'm running.

Everyone on 3…2…1…AAH!

One complaint I’ll lob at the animation is its love of characters facing away from the camera.  Action will typically occur but in a 2000 anime, it can get distracting when characters don’t face the camera.

Sound/Music/Voice Actors

I mentioned before that the sound director, Yota Tsuruoka, has an extremely prolific career and has led major anime sound.  He makes absolutely no mistake here.  The soundtrack to Boogiepop Phantom is incredible.  I think for about 9 of the 12 episodes I have a note regarding the use of sound editing or effective background music.  It is electric or techno at its core but it is top-notch.  They punctuate scenes extremely well and will set the tone in regard to mystery, action, horror, climax, and anything in between.  I’m amazed at how many of the soundtracks made their way into my favourites.  If you’re on the border, please watch Boogiepop Phantom purely for this.  I don’t know any other anime which utilizes so many different effects and subtle shifts (such as those in conversation loudness) to such an effect.  Even the void of white noise is utilized (though given that Tsuruoka worked on Lain, this isn’t a huge shock).

The opening, Evening Showers, feels a bit out-of-place.  In fact, I think the entire opening is a bit odd as a selection since all it does is introduce the primary characters.  Though given the anime, I can kind of see why.  It still feels dated by at least 15 years from production though…so today it feels fairly old.   The closing, Mirai Seiki Maruhi Club, plays a much more integrated role and feels much more appropriate as a theme for the anime overall on most occasions.

The anime’s subs and dubs are both fairly effective.  Dubs primarily consist of a “greatest hits” of the ’90s in the primary and important characters.  Crispin Freeman, Rachel Lillis, and Lisa Ortiz all make appearances.  I have a slight preference to the sub with exception of one character (Saki Yoshizawa) but I think both are possible options.  My suggestion is probably pick whichever you like more.  A major issue in either language is the number of voice actors though…there certainly wasn’t enough of a budget to offer top billing voices for every character and some in both languages are a bit lacking.

Synergy

I think mystery and psychology holds the anime together.  It pulls together character design, art choices, and music.  The pull of what’s happening in story and to each character causes you to come in.  Each of the above elements enforces that and pushes you along that direction.  The depth of the character’s perspective and horror elements keep the episode sharp and punctuated.  And you leave with a question about how each character really became what they are.

Why to Watch

Boogiepop Phantom is an anime I could recommend for many reasons.  If you love mystery, watch it.  If you want something with a little thinking involved and won’t lose its narrative novelty on first pass, watch it.  If you love psychologically interesting characters…you know what I’ll say.  What it comes down to is the fact that Boogiepop Phantom is great at what it intended.  The characters with backgrounds have unique and interesting reasons for their existence…though sometimes flimsy.  The sound editing is amazing.  Suspense and tension all work.

Let’s just leave it at this: if you liked any of the positives in the full review, watch Boogiepop Phantom.  Or, inversely, look below and if you don’t see a reason to NOT watch, watch it.  I mean, all subbed episodes are available legally on YouTube and two dubbed episodes exist.

Why Not to Watch

The problem with the “Why to Watch” section, of course, is that this also implies a quite unfortunate inverse situation…this anime isn’t good if you aren’t interested in its primary elements.  This anime, at best, has limited action.  If you want that, you’re out of luck here.  If you want something uplifting and positive on a continual basis, it isn’t going to happen.  If you want to follow a single character, this is the furthest thing from.  Heck, if you like vibrant colours, this isn’t going to happen.  If you don’t want a little background work to do first (or just read the above comment in the story section), you should move on unless you want to lose out on part of the narrative.  None of these points work out well for the anime though, again, it seems there is little focus here to begin with.

Personal Enjoyment

I think I was born to watch this anime.  It contains virtually everything I want and doesn’t have things I don’t want.  I love psychologically heavy anime.  Introducing characters every episode made a lot of fun as it let me explore more characters than most anime let me.  I’m not sure there’s a better way to describe it…the anime and I get along very well in focus.

Summary

Boogiepop Phantom is anime set out to continue its unique narrative style in animated form.  And in that regard, it does that very well.  It uses a vignette style narrative to follow a story and connect two of its light novels.  Heavy on psychology, suspense, mystery, and character mentality sharing, it emphasizes the key points of the light novels.  Viewers interested in these points will have a great experience I believe.  Conversely, having no interest in these traits will make the anime tedious at best.

Overall Rating

Boogiepop Phantom ended with 7.89/10 for me.  Given I use 5 as average, this ranks as a great anime and it currently ranks one of my favourite overall.  The single number may not reflect it but Boogiepop Phantom is one of the most interesting and unique anime I know of and highlights a major flaw in using a single value to reflect quality.

The show highly excelled in most regards but had its highest score in characters.  There is a strong and diverse cast of characters to understand and learn.  Many change within the span of a single episode to reasonable levels.  The only stat below a 7 out of 10 is music and vocals.  This again reflects a major limitation as this number entitles the incredible background music but also the voice actors who do a good but not exceptional job.

Review: Narutaru

Seriously, do NOT contact this thing if seen.

Eldritch abominations have never been so cute.

 

Background

I’m not sure I can say a lot about Narutaru before an actual review.  It’s a little known anime better known as a manga series.  Kids Station, a station which seems to do special projects more than anything else, produced the anime.  And when I mean special projects, I really do mean special.  There’s not much in their anime roster which I’d ever define as a really “normal” anime.  Their most famous work is xxxHOLIC which in itself is quite unusual.

The writers for Narutaru will point you heavily in the direction of this anime; Mohiro Kitoh of Bokurano fame created the manga while Chiaki Konaka (best known for working on Serial Experiments Lain) wrote much of the anime. I should point out to you that Bokurano is famous, or maybe infamous, for having children not act like children.  Let’s keep that in mind.

A little known composer, Susumu Ueda, created the music.  This may seem like a bit of an odd point to put in but I’ll refer back to this later.

Story

It’s hard to discuss Narutaru‘s story without giving away details.  But let’s give it a try.  I’ll take a second to first say that Narutaru is not, and absolutely not, for children.  It’s bleak, cruel, and filled with things that will make childhood nightmares seem happy.

Our story follows a young girl named Shiina Tamai.  She’s energetic, headstrong, and a little bit of a tomboy.  She lives with her father (family relations are strained due to reasons you’ll only find out in the manga), a small company air force pilot.  She’s not the hardest working student in school.  She meets an unusual starfish creature, shown above, on a trip to her grandparents while swimming in the nearby ocean.  It doesn’t speak and makes childish motions.  It manages to save her from drowning despite this.  She names it Hoshimaru since it doesn’t speak and Shiina is still a young girl at heart.  Narutaru tells the tales of Shiina and Hoshimaru.

Shiina and Hoshimaru meet other individuals similar to them.  The humans often refer to the creatures as “shadow dragons”.  Shadow dragons are almost invincible beings.  They take missiles to the face, many gun shots, and will still keep fighting back.  The only limitation is the strength of the person they are connected to; the human feels all the suffering the shadow dragon takes.

Now, this is where the story takes its first mean twist.  This set up sounds like a great anime for kids.  It kind of sounds like Digimon or other similar “monster” franchises.  Except it’s absolutely not.  It’s really dark.  Remember before when I said that Kitoh is famous for Bokurano?  A lot of the story plays out like Bokurano if it forgot to take its medication.  Well, at least the manga.  For starters, the shadow dragons are not innocent.  It’s mentioned early that dragons “eat souls”.  And that’s generally true without getting into spoilerific details.  So we have the first strike that the monsters aren’t really heroic.

Then comes the characters.  They are mean.  And I don’t mean generic bully mean.  The anime and manga both contain scenes of human activity which I wish I could forget.  The first “villain” casually speaks of genocide on the order of 5 billion people.  He’s a young teen like most of the cast by the way.  Even the protagonists are kind of like that.  Most characters take actions that are downright terrifying.  It’s difficult to speak of without ruining the series since much of the shock value is how far each character goes but suffice to say that each of them WILL likely surprise you.  Just as a quick measuring stick, literal conspiracies work against making certain characters in the manga happy.  It’s just that type of story.

Then there’s a level of realism.  Shiina is reckless.  She’ll bite off more than she can chew.  That’s fine in a typical monster franchise.  The hero is almost always hot-blooded in that aspect.  But Narutaru isn’t your typical monster franchise.  Shiina ends up on the receiving end of an ass kicking more often than she deals them out.  She also comes into contact with the rules of momentum, inertia, and more throughout her adventures.  It’s mean and gritty in this aspect.

I will point out that Narutaru‘s story in the manga is complete.  There is an ending.  But the anime certainly doesn’t show one.  It generally faithfully replicates the first 8 or so volumes of the manga then ends.  This gives you a nice visual adaptation but also creates massive problems.  First is the sense of finality: the anime ends of a dark note and just stops.  There is no real ending and there is a strong feeling of “now what?” that stems from it.  So many mysteries are left unsolved…and it’s not like the manga itself actually answers too many on its own.  Second is the pacing that stems from this: stories, events, and entire characters appear and disappear with no seeming purpose in the anime.  Most events and characters are tied in a bow to some degree in the manga.  But since the anime ends before the most significant events occur, nothing stems from them.  We see a character, see some events, then it just drops them off the face of the earth.  And this destroys a lot of pacing and emotion in the anime.  Pacing is a major problem and the anime, at best, is scattered and disoriented until major events occur.  And you’ll remember the major events.

Another concern in the anime is the division of time.  The manga seems to decide early that it will be dark and bleak.  A little focus is put on Shiina’s life but more of it focuses on Narutaru‘s deconstruction.  You get less sense of that in the anime.  Maybe it’s the timing.  Maybe it’s the animation quality shift.  Maybe it’s just that I watched and read the anime/manga at 1-2 AM.  But I certainly felt more of a slice-of-life emotion coming from Narutaru in the anime.  And this really doesn’t help the story since it is wholeheartedly destructive and rips apart the common tropes you’ll come to expect.

That being said, the anime isn’t entirely bad.  This premise and the deconstruction of it is quite a nice treat.  I’m not sure I’d describe it as a horror anime as many do.  But it is certainly unnerving.  The anime kicks off its first major story with some horribly cruel actions…such as the aforementioned casual genocide of humanity.  And the level of creepiness just goes up from there typically.  If you’re into this type of thing like I am the actions become far more interesting than the anime really should allow for.

And I’ll even praise the anime since it does some things that the manga doesn’t.  One character, Akira Sakura, has considered suicide on more than one occasion.  The manga just brings this up quickly but the anime actively shows us a sequence of Akira considering slitting her wrists.  And this is episode 2 by the way.

No, she won't succeed.

Yeah, Narutaru is kind of screwed up like that.

This really works in the anime’s favour.  I’ve got many, many notes circled around episode 2 because of this one short sequence.  It’s extremely well done and gives the anime some memorability.  Translating genres requires adjustments to succeed and some decisions like this work in its favour.  Ultimately, Narutaru is an example of both how to and how not to translate from manga to anime.  On the plus side, we get this.  On the negative, we get a little too faithful of and adaptation since it fails to filter events which clutter the story and make it too distracted to work real well.

Characters

The main character, undoubtedly, is Shiina Tamai.  As a deconstructive work, we watch the horrible consequences of being in a work about monsters and how a Digimon or Pokemon universe would actually kind of suck.  And Shiina is a great viewpoint for all this because she is very much the quintessential hero for these works.  Often aimed at the shonen demographic, she really does portray the traits of your typical shonen hero: actively gets herself involved, is high energy, acts heroic, and jumps before she even considers the consequences.  This work well because it acquaints us to the typical conventions of the genre and set us up for a typical anime making the deconstruction much harsher and more pronounced in its action.  So this works great.

Supporting Shiina primarily is Akira Sakura.  She’s a horribly broken individual…if the above picture of her wasn’t an indication of that already.  A nervous wreck, horribly shy, and a kind girl who hasn’t been given any real fair shakes in life, Akira is a signal of the anime’s true tone.  Contrasting her with Shiina is a perfect way to see the anime’s deconstructive elements.

Unfortunately this is where the problems for the anime start.  We get a whole host of character besides these two.  And I mean a host.  Virtually all the characters from the manga are shown at the proper time.  But because the anime is only a partial translation of the manga work the characters too feel unfinished.  Many characters’ arcs end in the latter portion of the manga.  So many are introduced, given a little interesting information and screen time, then vanish into oblivion with no concept of resolution and often limited character development at best.  In the manga these characters are often quite strong.  The decision to halt the characters mid-arc is quite a drawback and creates massive problems since we’re just faced with half-painted characters living in a world where we’re supposed to see the consequences of their actions.  This element even becomes a problem for Shiina since her most significant developments occur later in the manga after she enters middle school.

The characters who actually do end up with full arcs are generally very well done though.  Each disturbing element played out to its fullest works the way it is supposed to and the characters draw you in by their seemingly uncanny actions.  The saga between Aki Honda and Hiroko Kaizuka works very well.  You really feel the tension and emotion in this segment.  I’m almost positive you’ll feel for Hiroko.  And maybe Aki.  Either way though, their segment will likely burn itself into your brain should you choose to watch this anime.  I know I’ll probably have that segment lodged in my head ‘lest I take a blow to the head.

Yeah. What this poster says…I wish.

One problem I faced, and it might not occur for everyone, is the lack of distinct names.  I continually had to remind myself who [x] was by name.  I could visually identify each character and tell you all their actions but if they just stated “Norio” for example, it would take me a bit of effort to recall who Norio was.

Animation

I’m going to rip the band-aid off quickly: the animation quality is dreadful.  I can’t find any two ways around it.

Actually, maybe I’ll go into a little bit of an explanation first: this anime appears to have suffered from low-budget.  This point is very clearly evident in the high use of pans through still frames.  Many sequences dodge their animation by drawing a single frame and just looking around it to give the illusion of action.  While each frame typically looked good this skimping out still hurts the animation quality.  There are few real heavy action sequences.  Those that exist are best described as “acceptable”.  Even here it is plainly evident money was tight since often fights consisted of an action followed by the consequence without showing how it occurred.

I will note however that the level of detail on planes is unusual.  In the manga, characters spouted extremely detailed points about aircraft…especially military aircraft.  This transfers over to the anime a little.  I’ll admit I don’t know enough to tell you whether it is accurate or not but I’ll go with the old knowledge: say something confidently enough and you’ll likely keep people attentive.  So they sound good to me either way.

Unfortunately this comes as a bit of a distraction in the anime.  The quality is done so poorly that it does detract from the rest of the qualities of Narutaru.  I found it sometimes difficult to focus on the events when the characters were facing away from me while speaking.  Granted, I could deal with it in Evangelion and I managed to get through it here.  Just be aware that if you’re the type who loves top-notch animation you’ll want to look elsewhere.

Sound/Music/Voice Actors

Sound.  I would argue this is a major strength of the Narutaru anime.  In my top 10 anime openings post I openly admit I have a huge liking of the piano.  This carries over into background music…I really, really like the use of melancholic strings and dreary piano; they set the tone perfectly in the sequences where they are deployed.  There are a few pieces where the piano notes rip through everything.  Then the string instruments start and it pulls on you hard.  I earlier mentioned Susumu Ueda in my introduction.  I absolutely love the work done here…I wonder if Ueda go the credit he really deserved from Narutaru.

The opening and closing are best described as absolute traps.  I don’t mind either as they’re kind of lighter songs…the opening is very much a “bubblegum” opening between the song and the animation.  The closing is also much lighter than you’d expect of an anime of this variety.  If you’ve ever watched Puella Magi Madoka Magica, you know the drill.  It’s really kind of cruel since you know the anime is going to be dark as it’s commonly cited for the seinen demographic…yet it gives you this lovely and cutesy opening to make you feel better.

And why did you even offer the possibility that this would be the tone of the anime?

I watched this anime in both subs and dubs.  The dubbing studio didn’t do a great job…I’ll just put it this way.  They actually did hire some decent VAs for side characters (such as Lisa Ortiz and Veronica Taylor) but the main cast wasn’t great.  That being said, the Japanese voice acting team wasn’t great.  You’ll certainly recognize most of the voice actors, especially Akira Ishida, but I can’t say they really did anything special.  I will argue though that you should watch this subbed either way…probably the only way you’ll see it anyways since Central Park Media folded a while ago and nobody seems interested in redistributing Narutaru.

Synergy

The main aspect of this anime that you must consider is the juxtaposition of disturbing elements to the cute characters.  The manga characters are delicately built to create an atmosphere where you’ll constantly be shocked and horrified about how dark the world will get…about how evil the evil characters are and whether or not there are really any “good” characters.  It’s a thrilling anime in this regard.  Unfortunately this synergy also becomes the undoing since the anime doesn’t actually have any conclusion or satisfactory wrap up of much more than the arc it’s on.  Longer character arcs are left unanswered unless you turn to manga.

Why to Watch

Narutaru is a franchise I’d highly recommend if you like dark deconstructions.  It is twisted and cruel about how monsters play out.  Everything you loved about owning a pet monster is twisted around.  Owning one isn’t as fun as it seems…everybody is drawn towards each other and most of these guys are mentally broken nine ways to Sunday or so insane that you’re sure the only solution is a bullet to the face.  It pulls on our concepts of humanity and gives us the typical question: what happens to people when given absolute power?  They go corrupt absolutely.  The question is just extended into unfamiliar territory with young children.

I’d also recommend it if you like something along a cosmic horror story.  It really doesn’t fit the nature so much but in the end the manga still plays on the basic fear of human triviality.  But that’s enough of that since going any further will start bringing in spoilers and I really don’t think this is a franchise you can get into if you know what’s going to happen next.  If this is for you, you might find Narutaru is a really rough diamond.

Why Not to Watch

If you want anything even remotely close to positive or cheerful, just go.  You won’t want to see Narutaru and its inevitable conclusion.  Just have a sandwich and drop the idea.  Seriously Narutaru is probably on the same order of darkness as Warhammer 40,000‘s universe.  It manages to make Bokurano look cheerful.  And that’s a feat of incredible proportions.  So again, if you’re looking for good and cheerful, don’t go here.

Additionally, the quality of animation can be a major problem if you’re not into that sort of thing.

Finally, I can’t really recommend the anime when the manga for Narutaru exists and is complete.  The final volumes of the manga provide a much expanded narrative which explores the characters further, explains the relevance of most characters, and ends the narrative…kind of.  It’s a bit difficult to explain.  End of Evangelion difficult to explain.  If you’re really interested though, I’d suggest you just read the manga.

There’s also the fact that Central Park Media suffers from existence failure.  It’s unlikely you’ll find a legal copy too easily.  Crunchyroll and other sites seem to have problems finding this anime.  There are videos on YouTube but those really flirt with the concept of legality.  I don’t mind the idea of pirating abandonware but this is a bit of a grey territory.  If you’re uncomfortable with the notion of pirating an anime which looks like it’ll never get distributed in your area again, go ahead.

Personal Enjoyment

I probably am the ideal target for this anime…I love deconstructions.  They’re typically quite interesting to watch because of how they twist tropes and conventions.  As much as this should be a ringing endorsement, I found myself really struggling with the lack of conclusion, direction, or real focus in the anime.  It left me wanting.  Though this did make me read the manga quite intensely…so there’s that.

Summary

Let’s just keep this straight…one last time: this anime is dark, mean, and cruel.  It’s a horribly cruel deconstruction of owning a monster in anime.  The characters, despite being young teens, are not nice people and you’ll find that out multiple times.  The interaction and shock of these traits will generate a dark fascination with the anime should you be into that sort of thing.  If you’re not, it’s unlikely you could bear watching the horrors shown.  And if you’re interested, please keep in mind that there is a manga which I personally believe is better since the anime suffers from many flaws in pacing and animation

Overall Rating

Narutaru’s columnended with 4.88/10 on my spreadsheet.  Given I use 5 as average, this ranks as a reasonable anime. I certainly can’t suggest this for everyone given how niche the anime is.  I’m not sure how to put it any clearer than this: if you think you’d like a dark and unusual anime and don’t mind the other flaws, give it a shot.  If not, just ignore it and move on.

The show highly excelled in its narrative elements…or should I say potential.  The narrative worked well except for any actual catharsis or explanation.  The characters were well done in the parts that were shown…stand alone, they are nothing more than seemingly arbitrary and meaningless distractions.  It lagged in virtually every other element except background music…I found it effective and lovely.