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.

kirant’s Top Ten Anime Openings

I posted a fairly short post about what I feel constitutes a suitable opening a while ago.  After some time, I’ve decided to expand that a bit and do the most cliché thing possible: create a list of my favourite openings.

Let’s recap though.  Why exactly should we care about anime openings?  They’re short and don’t really cover much.  You can create a great show without one.  I personally would say that while Martian Successor Nadesico is an excellent anime it has a really lacks a memorable opening.  So why does it matter?

Well, openings are exactly how (most) anime lead off.  Together with an ending song (which typically also occurs…again, exceptions exist), these two provide the book ends for an episode.  They start you off.  With the concept of a battlefield in mind, they are the hard-working troops: first in, last out.

But that’s not all.  They need to instill specific emotions and tie yourself to what you’re going to watch.  In a drama heavy anime you should be prepared for drama.  In a comedy driven anime, it must get you ready to laugh.  Action?  Let’s get that blood pumping.  Slice-of-life?  I want to see the characters and how I’m going to expect them to appear in this narrative.

A good opening will set the stage for the episode or movie; it will put you “in the mood” for the episode.  A good opening may draw in an additional viewer or two.  I know I’ve found new anime to watch purely going by opening.  Conversely, a poor opening may hinder the quality.  I may even go as far to say that a repugnant one may lose a given anime viewers.

But this is enough introduction text.  I’m sure half of you are already bored.  Let’s get down to it then.

The video below is the link to the video of my top 10 openings.  The text below is pretty much if you’re interested in reading more about it.

 

Ground Rules

First, let’s establish some points about HOW I’ve done this list:

  • This list is personal.  It in no way reflects a generalized “top ten ever” list.  I’m not sure such a thing is possible as top quality anime is a subjective concept.  So if you personally disagree with my choices let me know and post your own list.  It’s always neat to see how person A varies from person B in such subjects.
  • Also note that this also means that an anime’s opening quality does not reflect its overall quality.
  • A single franchise has only one representative.  Its representative is the most favoured opening of the franchise.  For example, a long running series, such as Naruto, would only be represented on the list by one opening from the franchise (in which it has multiple).  The same goes for a franchise spanning multiple seasons/names.  So the same rules would go for, let’s say, Full Metal Alchemist and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
  • The anime are considered on the basis of quality of song, quality of animation and as an artistic element, suitability of the opening to the anime, and the interconnection of the opening’s elements.  I know this sounds a little vague, so please refer to my older post about openings for more details.
  • I reserve the right to learn and get smarter.  If you have a favourite you feel was not considered due to obscurity or general “kirant is kirant” eccentricities of mine, feel free to post a comment about it.  I had probably 150 entries I catalogued for the purpose of this, about 100 that I numerically estimated a rating for.  But that’s hardly all anime and if you think I missed one that deserves consideration, let me know.

And with that, here we go.

 

Honourable Mentions

Ten openings are a very short list.  I have a few openings that were close to being in the top ten that I felt deserve a little recognition.

 

Attack on Titan, Opening 1 (Song: Feuerroter Pfeil und Bogen by Linked Horizon)

Ah, a standard answer to this question in recent months.  It’s not like there’s not reason either; the opening has two excellent elements going for it.  First is the black, white, and red colour scheme early.  It really does set up for a somewhat bleak and dreary story where characters die by the boatload.  This is further highlighted by the single bell strike.  It’s absolutely hollowing if you catch it.  Second is the ten second segment everybody loves.  If you haven’t watched the opening yet, just go to the time 0:47 and watch until 0:57.  I personally don’t like this style of introduction typically but it works perfectly here.  This fits the anime to a T since it focuses on the action while giving you a basic rundown of the characters.  The opening’s pace change in this segment also gives a great mood shift.

Angel Beats!, Opening 1 (Song: My Soul, Your Beats! by Lia)

Alright.  Time for eccentricity confession number one: I absolutely love the use of pianos in anime songs.  There was an opening I seriously thought long and hard about highlighting just for the beautiful piece: …To You by Ayako Kawasumi.  Completely random point aside, Angel Beats! is a perfect example of this bias.  All I could think of during this opening was “needs more piano in it”.  It has such a beautiful melody to work with.  Seriously.  Just sit back and hit play – it’s lovely.  Between this and a heavy consistent drum beat, the latter used to play with the heart beat motif going on in this opening, it’s an incredible listen.  As much as I don’t like to say it, this is one of the openings you don’t even need the visuals to enjoy.

Elfen Lied (Song: Lilium by Kumiko Noma)

Anybody else remember when I pointed to Elfen Lied in my first post about openings?  No?  Well, this will all be new to you then.

This opening has pianos in it.  What a shock for me to like it.  Between the operatic singing, lengthy strings, and the melancholic piano, the entirety of the music points to the nature of the anime.  Actually, that’s a lie.  If you ever read the Latin lyrics from Lilium, it requires a bit more knowledge to really get the deeper meaning.  For most of us who aren’t Latin functional (or who used to know it but forgot), it isn’t as tearful and deep as it is really intended.  But don’t let that take away from the depressing song and stunning Elfen Lied/Klimt paintings.  From a purely artistic perspective, Elfen Lied‘s opening is gorgeous and while opinions sometimes vary on the quality of the anime itself, the opening less cluttered and more effective than many newer openings.

Psycho-Pass, Opening 1 (Song: Abnormalize by Ling Toshite Shigure)

Time for my second eccentricity confession: I love the use of black and white in openings.  An elegant black or white background or a fairly quiet part of an opening can play so well into my good books.

Moving on.  This opening fits more in the “Bond movie” category than a traditional anime opening.  The fist minute in particular is extremely abstract.  But this really does play in its favour as it constructs an almost entirely monochrome animation which is both memorable and expository (though the latter may take a little more consideration).  While it is sometimes a little hard to get past the falsetto vocals, the lyrics themselves ring with a good meaning that carries throughout the first half of the anime.  Put that with contrasting black and white animations and it really does set up as a good piece of animation.

Future Diary, Opening 1 (Song: Kuusou Mesorogiwi by Yousei Teikoku)

Blood red and grey palette.  Multiple languages.  Choir.  Fun artistic choices.  A literal “Deus ex Machina”.  What more do you really need?

No seriously.  The art is crisp and lovely.  The animation team easily could have skipped over all the not-so-subtle changes in static objects.  But they’re added in and create a level of creep obviously intended to go along with the kind of off-kilter atmosphere the entire opening provides.  What becomes even more lovely is that this the timing to the beat.  The opening wastes very few beats in regards to animation.  Combine this with the great thematic choices listed above (especially the blood-red palette aspect) and the high paced nature of the opening creates a heart pumping piece that many can enjoy with or without prior knowledge of the anime itself.  And in all honesty, that is the hallmark of a good opening.

By the way, take this drinking game into watching that opening a second time: tap a sip every time the language changes.  Enjoy.  I’ll have an ambulance on hold for you.

Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG (Song: Rise by Origa)

Okay.  I’ll give some fans a second to chuck stuff at me and tell me they don’t even want to know why I picked this over inner universe.

Done?  So I picked Rise for two reasons: the animation and the integration with the animation.  The first is easy to understand: the animation to the 2nd GIG is actually reflective of the anime itself.  The CGI in the first opening, while great for the time, really didn’t show us too much about Ghost in the Shell itself.  And the second is the timing of the screen jumps.  They almost all are timed to the beats provided.  This timing was incredible and really created a real unified front while viewing the opening.  I personally do like inner universe as a song over Rise but these improvements are impossible to overcome for me.

Also, let’s not forget the unique languages here.  Most of this song is Russian and performed by Origa.  Granted, the same occurred in inner universe, so I’m not sure that’s a shock.  Oh, and just a side note on inner universe: that song also has Latin in it.

10. Soul Eater, Opening 1 (Song: resonance by T.M.Revolution)

I’ll admit going in that I haven’t actually seen Soul Eater in the conventional sense.  You eventually figure the entire series through YouTube clips and TVtropes wandering but I really never did see it in full straight-to-finish as one typically does.  In that sense I never actually did see resonance prior to creating this list.  Watching this opening, however, sets the tone as a whole and really hones in on the fairly impressive action sequences

Many individuals I heard from recommended the second opening, Paper Moon, and I think this comes into a situation reverse of Ghost in the Shell above: one could argue Paper Moon is a better song if you believe that T.M.Revolution’s heavy bass and drum dominance makes the entire song sound uniform.  I would argue the song choice enhances the opening however.  Every aspect of this opening builds around resonance‘s beat, every action builds around keeping time with the song.  Watch Lord Death’s hand’s.  Or Death the Kid’s gunshots.  Every aspect of the opening uses this same basis of design and creates an incredible experience that’s easy to enjoy.

9. Neon Genesis Evangelion (Song: A Cruel Angel’s Thesis by Yoko Takahashi)

Another classic answer many fans will throw on.  A Cruel Angel’s Thesis is always an oddity for me: it doesn’t have the best song in my and is often mocked but yet it typically stands as one of the most famous anime openings (and for good reasons not “The Room of anime openings” reasons).  And I remember it as such too.

What ultimately strikes true for Evangelion‘s opening is how suited the opening is to the anime it introduces.  I’m sure everyone knows but Evangelion is dark, twisted, and somewhat unusual as often occurs with deconstructive anime.  The peculiarities with the opening set this at a pace that works well with the music it utilizes.  I admit I have an eccentric love (third one I’ve admitted now) of flashing many images to a quick, predictable beat.  Combine that with some fairly meaningful images and any opening with that will leave a lasting impression for me.

8. Cowboy Bebop (Song: Tank! by The Seatbelts)

I’ll wait until some people stop throwing stuff for it being “only” 8th.

A fairly standard selection and not a shock to many I know.  This one is well warranted.  About the only way I can describe Bebop‘s opening is as a love affair.  Jazz music is a very niche aspect of the Japanese music industry.  Yoko Kanno (fun drinking game: look at her Wikipedia page and take a shot every time you see something you recognize.  I almost guarantee that you’ll be blind drunk after) and The Seatbelts poured heart and soul into the opening, something clearly evidence in the quality and simple beauty of the piece.  Adding in Tim Jensen, the voice at the start of the song (also the lyric composer for Rise, listed above), is a great touch.  Add in some great and dedicated visuals to support it and you have an excellent standalone opening that really sets itself apart from the standard crop of openings you see time and time again.

7. Clannad: After Story (Song: Toki wo Kizamu Uta by Lia)

The entire Clannad franchise is often known as the “bring tissues” franchise.  Please don’t misconstrue that as anything but one of the most tear wrenching things you’ll ever see.  Continuing off from where its prequel left off, Clannad: After Story deals with one really hard topic in mind: life’s continual march.  One of the reasons the anime continues to rate amongst the elite of all time is because it starts with this message and works out in virtually every facet of design.  The opening is legitimately no exception.

I can say all I want about the clean, clear, crisp beautiful animations.  It reflects what you’ll see in each episode pretty much.  I can tell you how much that song is smooth and fairly well done.  But that’s not why I needed to put it here.  No.  It’s the stellar focus on the message above.  The lyrics are melancholic; I even find them hard to read with this anime in mind.  The tone of the animation is cute and wonderful yet have a haunting tone to them.  That amazing focus is what makes the opening a wonder.

6. Slayers Next (Song: Give a Reason by Megumi Hayashibara)

I make it no question that I love the Slayers franchise.  But that has no bearing here; Give a Reason is probably my favourite anime song from the ’90s point blank.  I’ve always found Megumi Hayashibara a good singer and Give a Reason‘s quiet instruments and synthesizer provide lots of space to highlight her vocals.

From the standpoint of Slayers Next, the animations provide a great sample of the anime’s style.  It’s a hybrid comedy/action franchise but it segregates based on the episode’s impact on plot: the comedy primarily falls on filler episodes (aside: these are sometimes considered their best episodes since it lets the exaggerated characters play in an exaggerated atmosphere) and the opening reflects that by mostly compartmentalizing the sections of the animation segments: the action sequences are clumped together as are the comedy sequences.

5. Eden of the East (Song: Falling Down by Oasis)

I’m sure most people know the story about this song in the international releases but let’s cover it anyways: Oasis is an English rock band and Falling Down was a song from 2008.  Because of differences in licensing agreements, FUNimation Entertainment couldn’t use find the money for this song for every episode without blowing a massive hole in their budget so they kept it for the first episode and replaced the rest.

Now, and I described this in my review of Eden of the East previously, but the imagery of this opening is amazing.  It’s abstract yet easy to comprehend design is unique.  The images are dynamic, fluid, and detailed.  They do not miss in terms of quality in virtually any regard.  There is even space to subtly hide in foreshadowing.  These elements are further highlighted by the use of Falling Down which somewhat tangentially relates to the anime’s story.  That’s not to take away from the song itself, which is a smooth alternative rock song with a strong drum beat.  The opening radiates a strong psychedelic element and creates a great atmosphere.  Add all this together and you end up with an opening which stands out and stays memorable.  It’s really too bad that licensing prevents it from becoming a permanent fixture in the FUNimation translation.

4. Serial Experiments Lain (Song: Duvet by Bôa)

There is not much I can say about this opening that isn’t positive (though I guess that’s a given this high up): the opening deals with pretty much the entire anime’s commentary on Lain.  It first sets the stage for the anime by presenting a pseudo-cyberpunk world, then showing us Lain as an individual who does not fit into the world.  Crows flee her and she only appears either alone or on an electronic device.   She’s never really fitting in or properly part of the world.  And of course are the spliced frames of Lain on a static-filled TV screen.  Not only does this provide a level of complexity but forces the viewer to match up the important elements to the anime.  Having ABe’s unique animation does not hurt either.

I also have to admit that I love Duvet.  I personally prefer smooth songs.  Duvet is light and smooth.  I’m sure the math isn’t too hard to do there.  It is also the perfect song for Serial Experiments Lain.  Credit goes where credit is due here: the opening matches the anime well.  Even more interesting is how an English opening, much like Eden of the East above, acknowledges one of the core aspects of their franchise.  With Duvet, it is to understand, feel, and come to love Lain.

3. Fractale (Song: Harinezumi by Hitomi Azuma)

Let’s get this out-of-the-way to start: no, this opening’s art has nothing to do with the anime in pretty much any regard.  Anything this abstract that really lives in the realm of a homonym to the anime’s name really won’t.  But that being said, it’s absolutely gorgeous.  I can’t think of another way to describe it: rotating, evolving, changing fractals.  Many people call it an acid trip or weird but I find it stunning.  Lots of time and effort went into making this opening what it is.  Add in a smooth song and it is something you can truly sit back without a lick of knowledge about the anime and enjoy.  Honestly, there’s very little else to know about this opening: it has a haunting yet lovely song and some of the best animations I have ever seen.  And I’m not kidding about that last part: the level of detail required to generate this opening is tough to fathom.

Just watch and enjoy.

I guess this would be a great time to point out that I love fractal geometry (eccentricity #4).

2. Texhnolyze (Song: Guardian Angel (Xavier’s Edit) by Juno Reactor)

Guardian Angel is probably one of the most interesting openings I’ll ever hear for an anime.  Done by Juno Reactor it is undoubtedly a foreign opening (Juno Reactor being based in London) but certainly doesn’t lay itself like one.  Much like Tank! above, this opening relies purely on sound instead of having lyrics to work with.  And it works in both of these cases.  For Texhnolyze, a heavily cyberpunk anime, there is probably no better piece of music to work with than Guardian Angel.  Every element of this opening works to this theme from the fast paced music and beats to discord in the longer notes.  Now, Texhnolyze itself isn’t really fast paced but this music hits the genre right on the head as pure, hard, raw cyberpunk.

The real connection comes from the art.  For those who haven’t seen it, Texhnolyze is horribly dark and dreary.  Nobody is really “good” per say and you probably have one of the darkest materials this side of Warhammer 40k.  The combined dark and flashy imagery set to the aforementioned music is an amazing piece to watch and, in my mind, warrants such a high spot.

1. Ergo Proxy (Song: Kiri by MONORAL)

So it’s come down to this.  Number one.

Ergo Proxy’s opening certainly isn’t flawless (and if you’re detail oriented like myself you may find some repetition in it), but I can’t think of another opening that I really want to put above it.  Texhnolyze‘s opening certainly came to mind, hence the #2 spot, but there are some aspects of Ergo Proxy‘s opening that just stand out so much more.

First, the music.  MONORAL, believe it or not, is a Japanese band with amazing English.  That is quite a highlight already.  I admit I really like this song.  I have a bit of a leaning towards alternative rock (though not entire…I’m sure you can look up and down this page for counters to that type of claim) so the unique value of this song being from a Japanese band yet sounding like something I could hear during a car ride in Canada is bonus marks to my enjoyment.

Then there’s the art.  The animation, like all of Ergo Proxy‘s, is exquisite and stunning.  Just try to count the number of ongoing effects: fake film damage, blue flickers, runic circle repetitions, moving text on the sides…and that’s on top of the high animation quality of the anime.  And, like much of Ergo Proxy, it exists on more than a single layer.  Re-watching the opening after watching the anime lets you identify many, many spoilers hidden in the opening.  This is a great aspect of this opening and really makes it amazing.  Oh, and of course this colour scheme is pretty much what you’d expect from Ergo Proxy as a whole.

Again, is it perfect?  No.  I’m never going to claim such a thing.  But it is beautiful, easy to listen to, and reflects the anime it came from.  And that’s pretty much the best opening I can think of.

 

Now, I’m sure many of you disagree.  I’m always keen to hear other opinions and, like I mentioned before, I’m going to reserve the right for me to become smarter.  If you think I’ve missed something or if you’d just like to share your own lists, feel free in the comments below.  Someday I’ll get to a version two of this…so…maybe things will change by then.

Review: Eden of the East

I cried the rain that filled the ocean wide

Catch the wheel that breaks the butterfly…

Background

East of the Eden is one of those anime you hear about quite a bit.  Extremely popular, well-recognized, and probably has a bit of a reputation proceeding it. It’s quite interesting to see where my lines fall in comparison to those of previous viewers.

Strangely, unlike the other anime I have reviewed, there isn’t much that really stands out from the production side. Production I.G is a fairly large organization and it sticks its hands into quite a few anime though it has got some great roots in the science fiction anime.  Ghost in the Shell, in this case, is its baby.  Actually, this franchise is probably key to understanding a bit of the background of Eden of the East since Production I.G went in-house to Kenji Kaniyama, the director of many parts of Ghost in the Shell (in specific, the Stand Alone Complex pieces), to take over the same roles he had in those anime: Director, Screen Composer, Script, and Storyboard.  Basically, they wanted to tap his brain again.

But of even larger interest is the character designer, Chica Umino.  Though this is mostly because of the similarities between protagonist Akira Takizawa, and Honey and Clover‘s Shinobu Morita.  As in, it’s obvious they wanted to draw lines between the two.

Aside from that, it’s key to note the composer.  Kenji Kawai has a hugely prolific career as a composer and while I can’t say he’s my favourite composer, it’s important to in mind his vast career as I approach the music comments.

Story

Three months before the anime begins, several missile strikes hit Japan in an event called “Careless Monday”.  It probably took place on a Monday, but that’s just a guess.  Anyways, Japan fell under attack by several missile strikes which, while dealing extreme damage to the infrastructure in the vicinity, did not actually kill anybody due to a large string of freak coincidences.  Protests and reaction sparked after the launches but quickly died down because of the real lack of leads.  In a similar stretch of time, 20,000 NEETs (“No education, employment, or training”) vanished from Japan.

Jump ahead to the first episode.  Saki Morimi is a university student pretty much set to graduate and take off into the work force.  This is a pretty big thing so her and her friends run off to USA for a little bit of time.  But she decides to abandon them fora little and visit DC.  While she’s by the White House, attempting to throw a coin into the fountain for god knows what reason, she meets Akira who at this point in time has no memories of anything, is stark naked, and is holding a gun and a cell phone.  And when I mean no memories, I mean nothing about himself; He apparently has a great recollection of Hollywood movies and is able to pinpoint even obscure films out.  Oh, and did I mention his cell phone seems to be connected to an all-powerful assistant named Juiz?  She can seemingly do anything she wants, up to and including making the Japanese Prime Minister say “Uncle” for no good reason.  Oh, and did I also mention Akira has an 8.2 billion Yen bank account for Juiz to carry out these orders with?  No?  My apologies.  I meant to get to that.

After some antics around DC, they decide to return to Japan together.  The story follows the adventures of the two as Akira attempts to restore and rediscover his past and his memories while Saki continues on in her old world and gets them and Akira to mix/integrate with each other.  The events of the past are tied in and we are left with an explanation of the world we have just witnessed.

That’s some lovely wreckage there.

The world itself and the hypothetical it poses are actually by far the most interesting part of the story.  The world they actually tell you creates a whole host of opportunities to stop and think.  The show is highly charged from a political point of view and while I’m not an expert in Japanese politics, can certainly understand and even relate to the problems that they speak of.  The topic of youth status, cultural development, and political issues rise very frequently.  A recurring question later on becomes, “If you had 10 billion Yen to change Japan, what would you do?”.  And, after transferring currency and country, this becomes a brilliant hypothetical to any nation and any individual.  From this aspect, it’s a well and extremely interesting product.

However this is also mixed in with the pacing of the show and exposition method.  It’s terrible at best.  An extremely short anime, 11 episodes, it fumbles between so many different arcs, characters, and situations that it barely gives much depth or interesting thought about any of the above.  The ending of the show is probably the most egregious as, while it answer our questions, it does it in an info-dump sort of method at the start of the episode and then leaves us with many other questions left hanging.  The movies are hardly much better and, while they do provide closure on the narrative arc, leave a lot of questions unknown.  And it’s unlikely they’ll ever be answered.

Actually, let’s take an aside to discuss the info-dumps.  This cheesed me off.  It really cheesed me off.  Maybe it’s a bit of my own idiosyncrasy though – I enjoy having to put together the intricate elements of the story itself.  For example, one of the greatest games I’ve ever played was Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.  This game basically just let you piece together some of the background yourself.  Want another example?  Look at the blog’s name.  That show probably host lecture on how to hide the story.  At any rate, the fact that the key aspects of the show presented the information in nothing more than lengthy monologues really killed the fun for me.  Especially when it came from characters who show up and begin throwing out exposition.  Hey, at least Martian Successor Nadesico had the balls to call that character “The Exposition Lady” halfway through the show.

Part of the problem is that it tries to balance two worlds: Akira’s and Saki’s.  For much of the anime, they barely interact and do mostly in the most superficial of ways.  When things begin to pick up it gets better in its narrative handling.  I wouldn’t call it stellar in this aspect, but it at least works.  But this is what creates problems.  The already short anime is split even further into a world which kind of barely moves until the last episode or two and the world which we need to explore and solve.  Not points for guessing which is which.  And when things get so short you really can’t build much of anything.

I can’t say it’s all bad in the story telling methods however.  This same brevity also works to some small part in Eden of the East‘s favour.  In the same breath that it uses to tell us it’s short and you’re likely not going to get detail on any of Akira’s world, we also realize that Akira is rushing through society.  He’s hunting answers and he tries to get them quickly.  The show might have improved if there wasn’t any focus on Saki and her friends in this realm of thought.

This next part can go either way: the humour.  The show is unrepentant part comedy.  In good times and in bad it’ll always try to turn things to the funny.  Serious action sequence?  Probably got jokes.  Story is progressing?  Let’s toss in a little humour.

Oh, and before I forget, check your thoughts of humour before preparing to watch this show.  The show has two primary levels of humour: the slapstick and the Johnny.  I mean penis.  No, seriously.  The animation team seemed to have a fascination with it.  Let me give an example: in the first episode, a police officer was asking to see Akira’s Johnny, which is to say passport.  So he subsequently drops his pants.  Cue laughter.  Honestly, this type of humour doesn’t work for me but it might for others.  It’s all well and good for kids…kind of.  They put cute and cartoonish white squiggles over the fun bits.

Characters

The anime’s main characters are undoubtedly Akira and Saki.  However, we are also introduced to at least nine other characters who you should be familiar with at some level.

This pretty much, including the fact that there is less than 4 hours to explore the world, a strong indication of the level of depth of most of these characters.  Most have at most two faces to their personality and they are rarely explored in any deep or meaningful manner.  They are instead presented as an almost monologue styled exposition.  And while I kind of amused myself with Micchon’s antics, she’s hardly a deep character.  In fact I think a huge problem with the show is the fact that most of the characters are one note.  They seemingly populate a world just for the sake of populating it.  In my review of Haibane Renmei, I considered this a flaw even though philosophical questions could be to blame.  I think the same may exist here: despite the fact that we really don’t see most characters long enough to really get to a point where we can see them develop, it’s hard on a show when we basically see them as all flat characters.

Another major issue here is the static level of the characters.  With about exception to one aspect of Saki, the entire world seems pretty consistent.  Akira never varies from his happy-go-goofy self for example.  I mean, Akira and Saki are likeable people to most, sure.  Akira is a goofy guy and Saki edges very close to your average person. But at the same time, you’d expect them to change as the world impacts them.  Akira especially.  This really does impact the viability of character strength in the show in my opinion.

Animation

The animation has two primarily aspects: the CGI and the animation itself.

The CGI is used as a lazy effect.  I get that this show had a lot of put up and needed ways to save money.  Trust me, I understand.  DC (and New York City from the movies), from what I’ve heard, have some amazingly accurate details from what I’ve heard.  Much like how Bethesda put a lot of effort into accurately portraying the landscape of DC in Fallout 3, it seems time and effort was put into it for Eden of the East.  And with this they create some pretty great looking sequences.  However, it’s also important to note that CGI really stands out in this anime.  As in, eye rollingly so.  Buildings and vehicles, even to the eye of a newcomer, will seem fairly obvious.  Anything large will be put into CGI form typically.  And, while it helps because it did let large set ups be created which high frequency, it also detracts since it is so obvious.

The animation can break further.  We actually get a very clear distinction of foregrounds and backgrounds in Eden of the East.  You can tell, very quickly, what is recycled scenery and what is changing on the foreground.  Kind of the dual-sided nature of coming into the digital era of anime I find.  And this gets a little distracting for some people.  Maybe not you, but the more I’ve watched, the more this begins to bug me. I will say that there is a production value ramp.  This is kind of expected and par for the course though and these issues fade during the more important sequences…it’s just that these cover so little time that the filler animation seems necessary.

No discussion about Eden of the East and its animation is complete though without looking at its style of animation.  It is intentionally lighthearted and drifts to remind us of its jovial nature even at the most serious of times.  Blush stickers, empty eyes, and overall typical cute anime artistic choice is pulled.

Wait, what?

Sound/Music/Voice Actors

Sound. I can’t say too much about the background music itself.  You know how airport music and elevator music is music you’re not supposed to listen to?  Well, it works the same way in East of the Eden.  The tone and mood is driven purely by visuals and dialogue.  For example, how important the sequence is can be derived and determined by whether or not Saki’s eyes are the empty white circles shown above or if they are using the more serious art for her. I will say though that Kenji Kawai made some incredible decisions when it came to songs used in-show.  In particular, the closing piece, Brenda Vaughn’s Reveal the World, is excellently placed and really sets a semi-symbolic tone to the anime.

Of course, the most famous part you’ll likely ever hear about Eden of the East is its opening.  Falling Down by Oasis.  That and the animation that goes with it are amazing.  I typically call it an arts student’s wet dream because, well, look at it.  Beautifully laid out decorations all over the place, a chaotic scattering of text, and a great song to go with it.  If you look hard enough too, it becomes a reflection of the anime in lyric and in animation.  Unfortunately, licensing issues (namely, Oasis caring about its distribution in North America as oppose to Japan and charging a boatload more for dubbing companies to distribute it) meant that this only appears on the first episode of English anime.  Please just pretend it was for all of them as the alternative opening is kind of generic and is much less interesting in its utilization.  This is where Kenji Kawai’s experience works in the show’s favour I think.

The closing, while not memorable, is catchy enough.  Though this section is turning more into a “review the opening and closing” section, I think it’s interesting to point out how nice the ending looks.  Pretty atypical work and pretty interesting to watch.

Watching this show is fine in either the dubs or subs.  Personally I didn’t notice a real difference between the two.  The only real standout for me were two VAs from the English side: Stephanie Sheh (Micchon…notice a pattern?) and J. Michael Tatum (Kazuomi Hirasawa).  Both provided voices that better suited their role…at least in my mind.  Actually, this was the first time I’ve ever recall any work dubbed by Tatum and I’m overall impressed with his ability.  Maybe I’m just getting old…

I will notify you though that English-speaking characters in the Japanese narrative are great at their jobs.  While they don’t work perfectly, it’s rare to see that perfect an understanding of importance of language being emphasized.  The characters speak effective English and those which would have unexpectedly butchered English speak with strong, though understandable, accents.  This works very well at the immersion of yourself into the show if you happen to watch the subbed version instead.

Synergy

The mixture of tension and character appeal tries to drive the show primarily.  Akira is a nice guy and we want to see him succeed to some fundamental level.  Similarly, Saki has dreams and goals we can relate to and want to see her do well in life.  But the tension and events of the show make this impossible.  So the elements begin to focus on how the show disrupts and prevents that from happening.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much relation or synergy between the characters and the events themselves; it becomes more a tool of “what is forcing our lovely protagonists apart” than “what happened and how is it influencing the characters?”.

Don’t get me wrong though.  I like this angle.  It’s a fairly fresh and unique take on the dramatic elements.

Why to Watch

Eden of the East is a show almost everyone can get into.  As much as I’ve critiqued elements of the show and have disagreed with the direction taken, it’s something that you can show almost anybody and they can get interested and engaged with.  The lighthearted tone makes it something you can watch without getting too emotionally invested and it gives you characters you genuinely care for…something that seems lacking at times in other anime.  The story gives you a good mix of a little bit of everything: a little action, a little comedy, a little drama…you name it, it has it.  It also asks questions relevant to society, in particular about apathetic youth, cultural identity, and how this all impacts the world around them.

And don’t forget about the incredible opening.

Why Not to Watch

The show, while it does everything, doesn’t do well at anything either.  It has comedy, yes, but it’s really kind of restricted to penis gags and a little staple humour.  It has action, but nothing extreme.  It has story, but it handholds you through the discovery process and doesn’t really let you do too much with it.  The animations, while a nice breather from what I typically watch, have a horrible tendency to reveal the obvious background/foreground choices that were made during the animating process.  If any one of those elements were the only draw, you’ll leave a little disappointed.  If you handed this to a newcomer to anime, you may wish to treat it as hor’dourves, something that will give them a light taste of what’s to come and may even give them extreme enjoyment but nothing that will sate their appetite.

And, of course, the ending never really summarizes in a really satisfactory manner.  Again, if I may compare to Martian Successor Nadesico, that show had the balls to point it out and say that they’ll be answered “in the inevitable sequel” (which…it turns out, they weren’t).

Personal Enjoyment

I like work where I don’t get to find out what’s going on fully.  The humour really wasn’t my speed unfortunately and it may be a sign that I’m out of my element in this anime.  I actually quite enjoyed a few episodes, but those were far apart.  I think the best way for me to put this was I found the show kind of chugged along until it ended.

Summary

I find the primary thing to remember when considering East of the Eden is that it’s not a hardcore thriller, comedy, or drama anime.  It does each of the above, but doesn’t do them to such a degree that it overwhelms the rest.  It has a great philosophical question too, but doesn’t explore it to as great a degree as you may wish for.  The primary protagonists are likeable but primarily static and the secondary characters are static.  Where this show really takes off is its ability to be approachable by fans of pretty much any genre.  Then it ties itself off with a beautiful finishing of sound…especially the opening.

Overall Rating

East of the Eden has 5.62/10 on my spreadsheet.  Given I use 5 as average, this ranks as a fairly decent show and I would suggest anybody to test a few of the free episodes on Funimation’s YouTube channel in their spare time.  This may seem counter-indicative to the score, but consider the universal appeal of this show.  When given a free outlet, I’d suggest anything with that wide an appeal to give it a couple of episodes before making their decision.

The show highly excelled in its musical elements under my scores.  This and personal enjoyment as I could think long and hard about the philosophical questions raised.  However, the show’s story (in particular, depth of exploration) and characters (their static nature) kind of held the anime back in this raw score.