Brilig and Slithy: A look at Galaxy Express 999 and Seirei no Moribito

Sorry that I’ve been absent for the last week or so, real life decided to rear its ugly head. I should be up and have my review all set by the end of the week. But that’s not what this post is about.

I do have a confession to make though. I broke down and got BitTorrent, mostly because of iknight’s post on Seirei no Moribito. Since I don’t know if it’ll ever get released here, I decided to download it. But then I got a great idea, I’ve wanted to watch Galaxy Express 999 since I first heard about it., so I found a torrent and downloaded that too. Now watching the two series at the same time leads to some interesting juxtapositions.

The thing is that they’re both fantasies. Sure, you could say that 999 is really a space opera, but in the end the space opera is a lot closer to fantasy then it is to hard sci-fi. Let’s face it, there are points where the kid rides around with the window open… in space… without getting sucked out. Unless we’re talking about 50s pulp science fiction that stuff doesn’t happen. (Unless you’re in Matsumoto land).

Now the defining characteristic about fantasy is the world. Generally it’s one of the things that really pulls me into a good fantasy story – and I think both of these worlds work for completely different reasons.

The world of Seirei no Moribito is a pretty standard, somewhat Asian fantasy setting. By standard, I mean everything follows a set of rules. Now this ranges from the most basic (gravity works) to the most fantastic (there is a spirit world that has an effect on the ‘real’ world.) Granted, the world isn’t quite as interactive as I could hope for, but overall it’s an expected world. The average viewer isn’t going to be jarred because things suddenly change. Chagum doesn’t suddenly turn out to be as good of a fighter as Balsa. Even Balsa needed to practice to get as good as she is.

In fact, it’s hard to really go on about it, because it is expected. Fantasy stories create a world, and the rules of that world remain consistent throughout the story.

But Galaxy Express 999 goes in the completely opposite direction. There are no hard and fast rules. For those people who aren’t familiar with the series, the idea is that there is a boy – Tetsuro – who is trying to get to a planet where they give mechanical bodies away for free. So he can become a cyborg. He’s accompanied by Maetel, a mysterious woman. (I kind of wish I could add in the mysterious sound effect there.)

In fact, there are only two rules in the whole of the show. The first one I’ll call the rule of relationship. Basically, if there is a related item or event that should occur because of the setting then it will occur, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. For instance, they establish pretty early on that the 999 is run by an “ancient alien technology” (cue mysterious sound effect), which is cool. I mean the space train has to be run by something. So you’d figure that if it’s run by an “ancient alien technology” that there’d be some really neat power source. Perhaps they’ve found a way to move away from fossil fuels and maybe it’s running on nuclear power or something. So what does the space train run on?

Coal.

Yes that’s right, coal. Because of course a steam train would run on coal. I mean that makes perfect sense. There are a lot of those moments, like the fact that Tetsuro rides around with the window open… in space… and his hair gets ruffled by the wind. I mean WTF? But in the end, it’s because these things would be expected if you’re riding a steam train on earth. So since they’re related the space train would have to run on coal.

The second rule is the rule of dramatic expediency. Pretty early on the series establishes that cyborgs are close to indestructible. And Tetsuro is just a normal flesh and blood human. He doesn’t have anything that makes him special, besides the fact that he’s a Matsumoto hero, which gives him special powers. But only when it serves the story.

Still early in the series, Tetsuro gets into a fight with some cyborgs in which he wastes them all. Now there’s really isn’t any time wasted explaining how a twelve-year-old kid can suddenly handle a gun well enough to kill, but I was okay with it. But then when the last cyborg is begging for his life, he destroys its head with the butt of the rifle.

And what’s worse is that he does it in one swing. Why? Because it’s dramatically expedient to do so. He doesn’t need to train, or be enhanced to be super strong. And in fact later on he can’t even break out of the grasp of another cyborg because again, it’s dramatically expedient.

But all of that said, the series works. I know, I just spent a whole bunch of time punching holes in it, but it really does work. Now, I’ll admit. I’m a bit of a Matsumoto fan. Not to the level of saying that his stuff is the best stuff and no one’s ever done better stuff, but mostly to the point where I’ll forgive him his more egregious sins.

But it’s more than that- it’s the fact that he doesn’t try to explain himself. We don’t get long drawn out reasons why there’s coal on the space train. Either you accept that there’s coal there, or you don’t. We never find out why Tetsuro has super powers occasionally. We either accept it or we don’t.

That’s what makes the show work. Is the fact that it doesn’t try to justify itself. It just throws out these ridiculous situations and says, “Well there it is.” In fact, the only way I can think to describe it is – what if Lewis Carroll wrote space opera?

And I suppose that’s enough for me to enjoy the series.

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A tale of two studios: Bones and Gonzo – An analysis

For me, it really is the best of times and the worst of times. It isn’t Madhouse or manglobe or even Production I.G. that epitomize anime for me. I realize that they’re all good production companies, but when I pick up one of their boxes I don’t know what I’m going to get. Each of their series are too divergent from each other. I don’t see any central vision to their stories. No similarities between their series. They are all good studios, but to me there are only two studios that will make me buy a series without thinking about it: Bones and Gonzo.

The funny thing is that no two studios could be more disimiliar. Bones focuses on telling an intricate story, revolving around a central theme or two. The characters are all rich and tend to walk on that moral tightrope between good and evil. I’ve never watched a Bones series with a true villian. Even Darcia at his most insane is completely understandable in Wolf’s Rain. The Peacekeepers in Scrapped Princess defend their positions with a cold logic that is both understandable and actually empathetic.

The animation and artwork seems to focus on this. Generally the characters remain central to the story. It’s rare that we get and epic scene of ships approaching each other in a Bones series. Even in the establishing shots, we see the characters moving through the landscape, whether it’s a city street or a snowy wasteland. Armies never stand face to face, milling over a muddy hillside, instead we see the generals agonizing over their decisions, hoping that they were the right ones. No matter how epic the series should be, the directors will find a way to make it intensely personal.

Of course, that’s why Bones sucks at epics. Their style simply can’t capture the vastness of the struggle. It’s one of the reasons why Scrapped Princess was good but not great. Instead of focusing on this monumental struggle between man and their alien occupiers, it shows that struggle through Shannon and CZ. The war is too personalized to really feel that the stakes are high enough for it to be truly epic.

Gonzo on the other hand, up and to recently, could do an epic like no other. Mostly it’s due to how beautiful their animation is. I still get chills thinking about Vincent standing on the bridge of the Urbanis as it’s pinned to Exile. The snow blowing in as he shouts up at the Sylvana to “give them hell.” The villians are truly atrocious. The good guys may be flawed, but are generally noble and heroic (or at least fighting on the side of good and right).

Even their more personal shows, like Gantz, Kiddy Grade and even Shana manage to capture that sense of epic so well that it causes a visceral response in me. The heroes seem like they’re in real danger. The stakes seem like they could be the end of the world. Even the establishing shots in The Count of Monte Cristo move away from the main characters, showing the grand vistas and the true immensity of it all. They’re more inclined to show the thousands of soliders on the muddy hill shuffling around rather than the generals. They will show dozens of ships squaring off, rather than one or two piloted by a particular character.

But even a show like Last Exile has soft spots when it comes to characters. In most Gonzo shows, the characters tend to be more flat. They’re pretty divided into good and evil. Even a show like Gantz, with its social commentary, is a show about epic characters doing epic things.

The problem is that one of them knows what they’re good at and the other studio doesn’t. Bones seems to always comes out with projects that are suited for their style. Even Scrapped Princess fits their style in a way, since the majority of the story focuses on Pacifica, Shannon and Raquel’s journey rather than any epic war. There are a few exceptions like Mars Daybreak, but generally they produce solid character driven shows.

But for Gonzo, they seem to be forgetting what makes them good (epic shows about epic people) and trying to diversify. The problem is that the work comes out uneven. Granted both Speed Grapher and Solty Rei had their high points and overall were good series. But they weren’t as good as they could have been.

On top of that, Gonzo seems to be losing their edge when it comes to artwork. While some of their shows are still good, a lot more of them are just okay and a few of them are really bad. I don’t know if their losing their talent pool, or if they just have been bringing in new directors. But it seems like they’re becoming just another studio.

And if you’ll pardon another literary reference, is enough to try my soul.

Beating the horse dead, Anime Network Online needs to hurry up.

Okay, so I don’t know if it’s just me. But for the second night running, the Anime Network Online site has been down. Now I didn’t have any problems when I used it during the day, so I don’t know what’s up. But they seem to be getting really bogged down during PrimeTime. Or is it just me?

It bugs me because I want to support the service. But if the service isn’t going to work consistently… well I don’t know why I’d waste my time watching the same old ads for the 15th time. It wouldn’t be so bad if they had some sort of report about an interruption in the service. But nope. No dice.

Are any of the other NA viewers out there having problems during 8 to midnight EST time?

Anime Bloggers Unite! Strange Warnings, The Bah Humbug Spirit and Pedantic Posts abound

Okay so I haven’t picked out a rotation for this, but for the people who read this blog regularly, you know the deal already. I’m going to pick out some posts I thought were good and not so good and give my opinion. And I’m probably going to pick up some hate today, but it’s all good.

So on with the fun.

With all the hub-bub and reviews of the new Anime Network player, a geek by any other name had one of the freshest comments I’ve seen. That the TOS for the player states that you have to 18 to use it. While I understand that it’s a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo to protect ADV from liability, I have to agree with her. With the demographics for anime skewing younger, making it against the rules to use the player does seem a bit silly.

And on the silly side of things, Furu Anime Panikku had another fun blog post about whether he would really use the merchandise that he bought. Granted, the stuff he has kind of makes me jealous. Although I really want a TERRA satchel. That’s all I want. And I would so use it. Why? Why can’t I have that?

And on the why side of things, I came across a couple of pedantic posts that might interest the more culturally inclined. Reverse Theives did one on the differences between popular anime in Japan and popular anime in America. Fair warning, skip the intro. It’s really dry reading, and come on, we watch ANIME. I think we realize that there are cultural differences. Also I think the later part is a bit skewed toward the traditional college age anime fan, rather than what has been really popular in anime. Unless you think Pokemon had a dark side? Perhaps that lost episode about the team Rocket bloodbath.

The Anime Blog had an interesting post on what Christmas means in Japan. The only problem is that it starts with a tongue-in-cheek rendition of what Christmas means in America. I could do an entire blog post about how the counterculture seems to be invading my nerdspace. But I’ll leave it at this – I like Christmas in America. I like the crass commercialism of it. I like Christmas lights. I like the madness at the mall as I dash through the crowds trying to find the perfect present. I like the idea of sticking a dead tree in my living room and stringing lights and tinsel on it. I even like tinny renditions of Carols through department store speakers. So leave my holiday alone and go pick on Easter or something.

Last but certainly not least, That’s Not Kanon had a thought-provoking post about how people associate themselves with particular anime characters. Seriously, I’d love to be Alex Rowe, hell I’d settle for Takuto Kanashiro (from Argentosoma), but I’d probably have to settle for being Krillen.

Anyways, that’s all the interesting stuff I saw in the anime blogosphere (that I don’t already subscribe to). So I’ll leave you with two posts about women, both real and plastic.

And if you want to send some hate my way, leave a comment or email iniksbane@gmail.com.

In My View: On Classic and Popular Anime

Cameron’s first rule of Classic Anime: A series will be deemed a classic based on the popularity of the show among the elite when it was released.
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So I’ve seen a lot of talk around the blogs about what type of anime is cool or good or defines a person as an otaku rather than just a casual viewer. I really wanted to write a post about it, but I couldn’t really focus on it. Honestly, it’s reminded me a lot of the whole new vs. old debate. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about anime “classics” much like other classics, generally it’s based on what a select group of people think about a series at the time it was released.
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Take a Nadia: The Secret of the Blue Water for instance, the elite seem to think that it’s a classic. Hell even Bamboo Dong over on ANN supported the show and generally I agree with her. But, it’s a horrible, horrible show. It’s long. It’s tedious. The characters are okay, but they’re pretty predictable. The plot is tired after about ten episodes and decides to take a long nap. The world is pretty cliche (Come on, it’s Atlantis?).
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In fact, the only thing the show is good for is giving it the MST3K treatment. And even at that you need to have a bunch of friends to do it with. And I’m not even going mention the quality of the animation. They won’t give it up though, mostly because of another trend:
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Cameron’s Second Law of Classic Anime (The Persistence Effect): A series or movie will persist to be a “classic” as long as the majority of the elite consider it a classic.
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To be fair, I do like reading a lot of the columns and listening to the podcasts of the elites. Which means that they have the ability to continue to spread their gospel of what is a classic and what isn’t a classic. The problem is that once a series enters the Canon it can’t get shaken out.
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Mostly, I think it’s a factor of an emotional reaction. These were the series that the top dogs watched way back when and that got them into anime in the first place. So they’re associated with a happier time, back when they were introduced to anime. So I have some sympathy towards their situation. But, not much.
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Although it’s interesting to note that there’s another effect that goes on with “classics”.
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Cameron’s Third Law of Anime Classics (The Degradation Effect): Each new generation of fans will reassess or dismiss classics.
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With as much new stuff that is coming out year after year, those classics are starting to slowly lose their hold. Mostly because I think a new generation of elite is starting to find their way onto the Internet. Granted, I don’t think enough time has really passed to supplant the current set, but I have started to see it happen.
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Sure there are classics that deserve to be classics, but there are so many more that don’t. In fact, I would even dare to say that a solid majority of the classics out there aren’t really all that hot.
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Although this has lead to another phenomenon that I’ve started to hear about, which is a culture clash between older fans and newer fans. Not so much from the newer fans side of things, but more from the older fans who don’t understand why people would like X show more than they like the classics. In a lot of ways, they can’t see past their own emotional opinion to really get at whether or not their favorites really are good shows. Or were they just good at the time.
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Agree or disagree? Leave a comment or e-mail iniksbane@gmail.com.

Oh ADV, why do you taunt me so?

So when I heard about Anime Network putting up the first episode of Tengen Toppan Gurren Lagann, I was stoked. Seriously, this is what the anime blogs and the ANN forums have clamored about for the last few months. Now it isn’t necessarily as quick as it needs to be to eliminate the need for fansubs, but it’s a step in the right direction. Moe Check!, Anime Diet and The Anime Almanac all wrote good posts on it and I’d just be repeating them.

In fact I was so stoked that I NEEDED to see it right then. After hearing how great this series was, I wanted to understand what it meant to have a drill that pierced the heavens. Doesn’t everyone want to be in on the joke?

What follows is a transcript of what happened:

12:00 AM – Ooooo. Neat. I can finally see what all this hype is about. First go to ANN – and there’s that banner. Hell, they’ve turned their entire front page into an ad for the Anime Network, which is nice because then I don’t have to sort through their news to find the article with the link. All I need to do is click and… there. And it’s right there on the front page, all I need to do is hit the banner. It says I need Flash 9 to run this, I don’t think it’s a problem. Click. And there we are coming into ADV land, time to pull up Gurren Lagann and just watch it. It all seems pretty simple.

12:10 AM – So the first ad, I see is for a home loan? Um… yeah. How come I don’t think that’s your target audience there, guys? Who do you think watches anime? The nine to five, shirt and tie crowd?

Granted, it’s for one of those, “Sure, we’ll give you money for nothing. Except that if you miss a payment you’re interest rate is going to go up to a million percent. Oh you didn’t see that, it’s right there in the fine print.” companies.

12:11 AM – Okay, that exercise in silliness is done. Now for the show.

12:12 AM – I’m waiting.

12:13 AM – I’m still waiting.

12:14 AM – Um, yeah. I’m going to get coffee.

12:16 AM – Okay, so I’m done with this. I’m going to shut this puppy down and try to reboot Internet Explorer. I get the oh-so-helpful box of death from Vista asking me whether I want to A) Close the program. B) Shove a banana up my butt and dance around like a monkey. or C) Wait until the ice caps melt and use the salt water to channel the signal directly to my brain. I choose A. (Okay so I almost made a Pokemon crack right there, but I figured that it would be a little too groan inspiring.)

12:18 AM – Starting up IE again. I go through all the same steps again. Pull up the Anime Network’s screen and wait. Okay so another ad, it’s one of those bizzarro ANN ads. Sorry to break it to you guys, the fastest doesn’t mean the best. But I’ve already done my ANN rant. I’m not going to talk about it any more.

12:20 AM – So I’m still waiting. As I’m waiting, I notice there’s an error symbol down in the corner of the window. Hrm… I wonder if I don’t really have Flash 9. It’s possible. I mean the computer isn’t a year old yet, but those folks over at Adobe could have churned out a new version by now.

12:25 AM – I go to the Flash Site, and dance around the pages. Hrm… well, it says I’ve got Flash 9. Maybe I just don’t have the latest version. So, I download it and head back to the Anime Network page.

12:28 AM – Now, it’s giving me a pop-up window. I’m getting excited, maybe I’m going to finally get to see the show. I’m trembling with anticipation. Okay, so maybe I’m not trembling, but I’m starting to get stoked. Why? Because I want to drill my way into the heavens. Oh yes. I’m started to be able to find the show without even trying. I pull it up and sit through another ad. This time for UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie. I still kind of want to see that show… except that it looks kind of stupid, oh wait, that’s done and here we go!

12:29 AM – Here we go?

12:30 AM – We’re going any time now?

12:31 AM – Okay guys, this is starting to get ridiculous. I know that this thing works. I saw three, count them, three blog posts reviewing this player. But do I get to see the show? No, of course not. And why not? I’m starting to think ADV has honed in on my computer and is denying me this show on purpose. I can imagine John Ledford has sent out a memo saying, “Yeah, everyone else in America and Canada can watch this show, but you see that guy over in Maryland, I think his name is Cameron or something. Well he can’t watch it. Why? Did you just ask me why? To the re-education camps with you!”

Just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me.

12:40 – After not only trying to load Gurren Lagann, but also another random show. I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to work for me. So I’m left with only one recourse – to restart my computer. I hate doing it because it always takes forever to restart, but I WILL SEE GURREN LAGANN TONIGHT!

12:50 AM – After a cigarette break, I come back to my computer. This time, yes this time, I will have a heavenly drill that will piece the ceiling that ADV has put above me. Oh I’m going to be on team Lagann that’s for certain.

12:55 AM – I’m denied yet again.

1:00 AM – I go onto Netflix and watch an old episode of Saiyuki. Yeah… it sucks, but at least I get to watch it.

Epilogue – I did get the player to work this morning. But there isn’t a FAQ for the player. There’s no way to troubleshoot it. In fact, if it doesn’t work then evidently you’re screwed and that’s that.

Or John Ledford really does have a crystal ball and is gunning for me. I mean who knows. Maybe I did something to him in a previous life.

Anime Bloggers Unite! Haruhi, Fan Art, Meta Meta and All time favorite series

So I thought I’d do something a bit different. My poll is almost up, and it looks like most people who visit this Site are too ambivalent to vote. But for the majority of people who aren’t, they’d like to see me do critique and analysis on blogs.

Well as part of that I thought I’d step out of my shell a bit and offer up some stuff that I came across on AnimeNano. And to show that I’m not a copycat, I’m actually going to add my own thoughts.

Tea Shop Beloved – Defloned talked about the plethora of favorite series that people seem to list. Especially when it comes to all-time favorite series. This post is close to my heart. I’m still struggling with how to define an all-time favorite series. And why, some series that have some problems are on my all-time favs list, but some series with problems aren’t.

But I do agree with Defloned. There isn’t any reason to have more than 20 all-time favorite series. It’s a sign that people aren’t really being serious with themselves. They confuse an initial emotional reaction with a series really being good. I do think the initial reaction is important, but I think it’s a question of how long a series haunts you after watching it. Do you find yourself thinking about what the symbolism in Wolf’s Rain could mean, or that stupid picture in RahXephon. Good lord. That’s going to drive me crazy for the rest of my days.

To be fair, it’s in part a reaction to a misconception I’ve heard floating around lately. That an enjoyable series must be great or else it isn’t good. Why can’t someone just enjoy a series? It is entertainment after all.

The Ramblings of Dark Mirage

So I don’t read DarkMirage. I know I should, but it’s kind of like picking up the DaVinci Code. Everyone tells you it’s great, but because they tell you it’s great you don’t want to read it. Although I did think this blog post was interesting. Granted, I don’t know jack or shit about what he’s talking about, but I did think the part about the high price of the dojinshi was interesting. Mostly because it’s part of a larger phenomenon, I’m seeing lately – so I’m going to coin a term here: The “I did this” argument.

I’ve heard this in the fansub debate too. The idea that X people did all this work and should get paid for it, even though they didn’t create anything. It’s a little more substantial in the fansub argument, but not by much. Granted, I don’t draw and I don’t do translations, but I wouldn’t expect people to pay me more than the cost of materials to make a copy of something that someone else did. That tends to be why I support indie artists at the Artist’s Alley. Rather than getting a picture of Ruroni Kenshin dressed up in TERRA gear. Ew… that’s a bad thought.

On to the next one.

Furu Anime Panikku – This one was mostly a self-reflective post about the blog. But what I noticed here was an idea about different types of blogs – mostly episode recap blogs. Granted, I don’t really read episode recaps myself, mostly because I don’t usually watch fansubs. (Except for Blood +, damn you Sony for not making a R1 release yet.)

I do think this is an interesting social phenomenon that we tend to gravitate toward a certain type of blog. Whether it’s personal thoughts and reflections, or analysis. To be fair, I do it myself. I tend to frequent the same blogs again and again. And in all honesty, those are the blogs that I try to emulate here with mixed results.

But I do think episode recap blogs do have a place in the anime blogging community. Let’s face it, they’re in some ways the ultimate expressions of fandom. They’re talking about what they’re watching and offering up their opinions. In some ways they’re the primer for the hype that starts about a series.

And speaking of hype (how’d you like that transition), HappySoda wrote an pretty standard review about Bandai’s release of Haruhi. What caught me here was a reference to what I like to call: the curmudgeon-hype formula. The amount of hype a series gets is inversely proportional to how much a curmudgeon will like a series.

Last but definitely not least, the Anime Blogging Collective has launched a retrospective on the last year of anime called the 12 days of Christmas. Seriously, I don’t know how many of these guys there are, but check out What is eternity doing tonight?, The Animachronism (who has one of the best titles for a blog ever) and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?! along with at least one post by AnimeOtaku – all of which wrote some awesome posts. Well they always write awesome posts. (I subscribe to all of these blogs) EDIT: AnimeOtaku is not part of the collective, but he did do one post for the project.

And Anime Sophist is having a month of El-Hazard, which is neat too. Considering it was one of those shows I watched way back when. Granted, I still haven’t seen the last episode of the OVA, but still he writes a mean review. (I subscribe to this one too.)

Okay, so if you think I missed something, or you’d like to see some more just leave a comment or email me at iniksbane@gmail.com. Also, if you’re interested in participating in the blog in review project, please send me an e-mail. I will be starting next week if at all possible.

And as always, thanks for reading.