Wednesday is a doldrums type day here at Iceberg Ink. I rarely finish a book on a Tuesday enabling me to construct a review on a Wednesday (I usually finish books on weekends), and unless there is some piece of news to impart Wednesday is fairly quiet.
So let’s start a new feature shall we?
Anime Wednesday! This will be a monthly entry and will be on a Wednesday each time. I hope you enjoy it.
I used to be into anime of all kinds, and in my late teens and early twenties I watched an awful lot of it with a friend who was also into it. I watched some decidedly powerful stuff, but I also watched some disastrously awful stuff, and even some blatantly offensive stuff. Anime is a craps shoot generally. Sometimes gorgeous animation doesn’t yield the best story, just as sometimes subpar animation can bring you an incredible story…and other times it’s completely the other way around. It really is like that. There is no definitive yardstick against which to measure anime and it mostly will come down to subjective choice. Though I keep telling folk that shun anime as childish or strange that there are diamonds in the rough that are not only works of art, but stunning pieces of storytelling. The problem is that for every Studio Ghibli film that comes out to wow us, there is also some ridiculous shows like (insert bad anime here) that tell awful stories and make you ashamed to have even put on the DVD. So it’s pretty much a minefield and sometimes you can’t tell just from a synopsis or covert art/screenshots/trailers what is good and what isn’t.
Today’s post will be two-fold.
One: I will make a list of anime that I feel is worthy of your time if you are new to the genre.
Two: I want to talk about the latest Miyazaki film from Studio Ghibli called ARRIETY.
So firstly, to the list. These are going to be either TV series or films that I feel are worthy of mention and I’ll give a short reason why. So, in no particular order:
NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (REBUILD): (Film series [4 total])
In the 21st century, humankind faces a threat from giant space creatures known as "Angels". To combat this threat, an organization known as Nerv is formed. They proceed to build giant robots called Evangelions and use 14 year-old children to pilot them.
Now those who know this series might ask why I say films and not the TV show (or the previous films). Well the show had a bad ending, and though the films that followed it sort of fixed that ending, it’s still a tall order to go back and watch all 26 episodes and two feature films in what is a rather incoherent and incomplete story. The Rebuild films that have been slowly coming out (the 3rd just hit theatres in Japan) are completely new animation, new story points and a much more cohesive and easy to understand narrative. I don’t need to tell you getting to see Eva in theatres is a treat and a half. You will not find a series more filled with historical/philosophical/mysterious/apocalyptic undertones in anime at large. It is everything you can think of in one show and at times can be utterly mesmerizing. You can find both the first film EVANGELION 1.0: YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE and the second EVANGELION 2.0: YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE on DVD and Blu Ray in North America now.
PRINCESS MONONOKE: (Film)
Inflicted with a deadly curse, a young warrior named Ashitaka sets out for the forests of the west in search of the cure that will save his life. Once there, he becomes inextricably entangled in a bitter battle that matches Lady Eboshi and a proud clan of humans against the forest's animal gods, who are led by the brave Princess Mononoke a young woman raised by wolves!
In what is probably my favourite Studio Ghibli film, the English language dub of MONONOKE has the voice talents of Claire Danes, Gillian Anderson, Minnie Driver and Billy Crudup. This is a very environmental story and literally jumps off the screen. It’s no wonder that this was the first of the Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki films that was shown widely outside Japan and though it didn’t fare all that well over here (in Japan it won numerous awards) I am fully of the belief it alerted the worldwide populous to the skill that Myazaki was bringing to the animation table, paving the way for his next feature SPIRITED AWAY to not only meet universal acclaim but win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2002. I personally find that MONONOKE is the superior film, but don’t take my word for it, give it a watch.
THE MELANCHOLY OF HARHUI SUZUMIYA: (Series)
This show centers on the title character Haruhi Suzumiya a young high school girl, and her strange antics with her friends in a club she formed called the SOS Brigade, although it is told from the perspective of the male lead, Kyon in nonlinear narrative.
If you are looking for anime that will make you laugh, be totally ridiculous and clever as hell at the same time then this is for you. If you watch the show as they have aired it (starting at episode 00 not 01) then you will be party to the first major joke of the series and it’s hilarious. The main character of Haruhi is so scattershot and insane at time that she is endlessly entertaining even when she’s just babbling about Espers and Ghosts and Dimensions. Because the show is told VIA Kyon’s perspective there is an added level of WTF-ery that he adds to the proceedings as he reacts to her the way any sane person would leading to much fun and enjoyment. You can get the complete collection on DVD HERE.
GHOST IN THE SHELL: STAND ALONE COMPLEX (Series)
Stand Alone Complex takes place in the year 2030, where many people are cyborgs with prosthetic bodies. Primarily set in the fictional Japanese city of New Port, the series follows the members of Public Security Section 9, a special-operations task-force made up of former military officers and police detectives. The series presents individual cases that Section 9 investigates, along with an ongoing, more serious investigation into the complex Laughing Man incidents.
Now the two films for GitS are great and all, and groundbreaking ect. but the series that followed it added so much more meat and depth to the idea behind the story that it can’t help but be amazing. Lushly animated (when it started airing in 2002 it had the biggest animation budget on TV in Japan ever), and vividly told, the stories from episode to episode (including an overall narrative arc concerning The Laughing Man) are as close as you can come to a LOST or FRINGE style of connected season arc mystery in the anime world. Looking for a police procedural anime? Look no further; you will get no better than this. You can get the first complete collection on DVD HERE.
SUMMER WARS: (Film)
When timid eleventh-grader and math genius Kenji Koiso is asked by older student and secret crush Natsuki to come with her to her family’s Nagano home for a summer job, he agrees without hesitation. Natsuki’s family, the Jinnouchi clan, dates back to the Muromachi era, and they’ve all come together to celebrate the 90th birthday of the spunky matriarch of the family, Sakae. That’s when Kenji discovers his “summer job” is to pretend to be Natsuki’s fiancé and dance with her at the birthday celebration. As Kenji attempts to keep up with Natsuki’s act around her family, he receives a strange math problem on his cell phone which, being a math genius, he can’t resist solving. As it turns out, the solution to the mysterious equation causes a hijacking of the social networking site through which most of the world’s social and business traffic flows.
This actually is another one that got a small theatrical release over here, but it was the fact that it had a glorious Apple trailer that caught me. It sounded interesting and done by the people who did the amazingly heartfelt film THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME. Commenting on the current status of human machine connectivity (VIA the internet, Cell phones, digital accounts ect.) and how it could be detrimental, it also finds time to be a complex family drama with two young people thrown together in circumstances that will eventually lead to something more. It’s kind of a coming of age tale, mixed with an apocalyptic summer virus that wishes to destroy the world’s order. I don’t know how but this film manages to be utterly charming while being a cautionary tale at the same time. Well worth your time to watch! SUMMER WARS is available HERE.
THE TOWER OF DRUAGA: THE AEGIS OF URUK: (Series)
In a summer once every five years, demons in the mysterious Tower of Druaga lose their powers due to the magic spell cast by a god named "Anu". King Gilgamesh, ruler of the kingdom Uruk, uses the appearance of demons as an excuse to invade the tower and find out the construct's secrets. As 80 years passed, the Uruk army managed to fight back the demons and built a fortress city and safe haven on the very first floor of Druaga - Metz Kier. Thus begins the story of a warrior named Jil who, finding companions along the way, embarks on a quest for the fabled Blue Crystal Rod, a powerful artifact rumored to be in the highest floor of Druaga. However, other competitors, including the kingdom of Uruk itself, want the treasure, all for their own reasons.
Looking for anime Fantasy style? This is the best. At least the best I’ve seen. It has all the trappings of classic fantasy, but with the added depth only a mysterious and emotional anime story can provide. One thing that you can notice by watching this is that anime pulls no punches. While it is animation, it is sometimes stories for adults and DRUAGA is one of those that doesn’t shy away from the more adult themes of loss, betrayal and sadness. I have just not found any other anime that reminds me as much of the fantasy books I read. Stunning animation, amazing spells and weapons and a quest that could humble the greatest warrior. DRUAGA complete series is HERE.
So that’s today’s list. That not all my favourites, but it’s a few of the very best. I know, I know, I didn’t mention stuff like AKIRA, and COWBOY BEEBOP or SAMURAI CHAMPLOO, well those are more mainstream approachable stuff that I love, but I wanted to make a list of the more backstage stuff that casual viewers may not have heard of.
Now onto the Ghibli news. Hayao Miyazaki has been called the Walt Disney of Japanese animation. Most of his films are made for family viewing and you will more often than not find nothing in them that kids won’t like. I also feel like the messages in them are great for children as well as adults. Anime rarely talks down to children the way that Western animation can sometimes do. Miyazaki is all about the aspect of growing up and yet never stopping to believe in magic and wonder. A kid at heart (even for an old timer) I once heard him speak at a film screening at TIFF and he has this exuberance that can only be described as “childlike enthusiasm” and he brings that to his work. In a Studio Ghibli film, you can always expect the highest caliber of animation, the highest caliber of storytelling and most importantly the highest caliber of dazzling imagination.
His latest work is an adaptation of Mary Norton’s THE BORROWERS. Titled after the main character it is called ARRIETTY, and looks to be every bit the Miyazaki we have come to enjoy in the last decade. Strangely there is a different voice cast for the British release and the American release…and to be honest I hope we in Canada get the British one as it stars the likes of Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland and Mark strong. While the American version is the less impressive cast of Bridget Mendler, Amy Poehler and Will Arnett (which are really odd choices). It sounds like another winner since the story of THE BORROWERS lends itself very well to the style of narrative Miyazaki is not only used to telling but usually nails perfectly. Hopefully ARRIETTY represents the same type of family friendly film that can be enjoyed across the board like MONONOKE, SPRITIED AWAY, and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO before it. Even more odd, the film is coming out in the UK this summer, and the American dub isn’t lout till January of 2012…meaning they did the British dub first and whoever bought it to release it in America wanted their own voice cast to do dubbing, though I can’t understand why with thespians such as Ronan and Strong in the leads. At any rate this likely means the chances I’ll get to see the British cut are higher, since computer DVD players can play PAL region discs.
So that’s Anime Wednesday for July. Hope you all enjoyed and look forward to hearing about more in the future. Till the August installment, I leave you with the English language trailer for ARRIETTY.