Irregular Pandas

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Apr 072012

There’s something about cartoons where the main characters are animals that’s always bugged me. It isn’t the absurdity of animals acting like they’re human or anything like that. It’s something far more inconsequential, and therefore all the more important to the inner workings of my broken psyche.

Why is it that it’s only the main characters who are animals?

This nagging point popped up again as I was watching Polar Bear Cafe. The show’s cute and all, managing to string out a good amount of charm from watching animals go about trying to find part-time jobs and shit like that. But the main thing on my mind as I was watching it was the fact that none of the background characters are animals. The main crew at the cafe is made up of animals. Panda hangs out with some co-workers from the zoo. But none of the inconsequential characters are animals. None of the casual background characters at the cafe are animals. You don’t see a giraffe chilling out and drinking an iced mocha. You see some generic human dude doing that. The attention of the anime will focus on animals, but it never lets those animals mingle with the background. It’s as if despite seeming to coexist, these animals don’t really exist on the same plane as the humans. Not on some sort of racial segregation level, but on a literal different level of reality. It’s as if these animals drift in and out of realities, or as if the humans drift into the reality of the animals for brief moments only to drift back into mundane reality, oblivious to what just transpired.

It’s the same sort of thing I’ve always seen in American cartoons. A recent example is Regular Show. The main characters are all animals and other weird anthropomorphized creatures. They interact with regular humans, but you rarely see other animals depicted in the backgrounds. Just like Polar Bear Cafe, all of the incidental background characters are human. You even see many of the same background characters appearing with some consistency, but they’re always humans. There are plenty of supporting characters who interact with the main characters and also happen to be non-human, but they always exist within the confines of the “camera’s” viewpoint.

It’s like these animals don’t exist if our attention isn’t focused upon them. They’re these ephemeral beings who need our belief in them in order to manifest in our reality– like some sort of gods born out of our beliefs or some shit. That’s the vibe I always get from these animal cartoons, and it’s all born out of this silly detail that’s born more out of animators being lazy and using stock drawings for backgrounds. It’s harder to draw a bunch of different types of animals to flesh out these worlds, but it makes the animals who are the stars seem like dreams only existing in the eye of the audience.

So yeah, Panda, your only being tormented by your vacuum-fetish mother because our attention upon you allows it to happen. If we ignored you, your torture would end, but so would your existence. Sucks to be you, Panda.

Also: Panda from Polar Bear Cafe and Rigby from Regular Show should totally hang.

Branded to Fujiko

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Apr 072012

I kept track of Fujiko’s nudity during my second viewing of the first episode of the new Lupin series. Outside of the opening and ending credits, Fujiko’s bearing it all for about two minutes: The scene where she tries to seduce Lupin and seduces the guard, and then at the end of the episode when Lupin’s escaping. Not exactly what I’d call “OMG BREASTS EVERYWHERE” like every other person out there. I think people had her breasts burned into their eyes after that opening sequence and couldn’t see anything else afterwards. It’s understandable, since they’re pretty good-looking as far as cartoon boobs go, but the nudity thing’s way overstated.

And everything else about this anime is pretty good-looking as well. Much has been said about how it’s hearkening back to the manga’s sketchy style. That’s true, but what struck me the most was how everything plays out like something straight out of a Seijun Suzuki movie.

I talked about Suzuki’s stuff before when I did a quick review of Branded to Kill. The guy directed yakuza movies and the like in the 50s and 60s, and what made his movies stand out from all of the other mass-produced B-movies of the time is his visual style. A quick and dirty way to explain his style would be “What would happen if the models from 80s perfume commercials got into a gun fight.” It’s all stark, angular shadows and posturing and dreamlike choreography that only makes sense within some abstract architectural design. It’s downright surreal, but it has all of the trappings of a straight-up gun fight.

The duel between Lupin and Fujiko towards the end of this episode felt like something that’d belong in one of Suzuki’s movies. The opening volley where Fujiko shoots Lupin with a lipstick bullet feels like something out of Pistol Opera. And I loved the way the lighting flashed in and out as the two of them duked it out, making everything play like a violent photo shoot.

All of this makes perfect sense. Not only were Suzuki’s movies being released around the same time that the original Lupin manga debuted, the guy also co-directed one of the Lupin movies from the 80s, The Legend of the Gold of Babylon. I haven’t seen that one yet, but I plan on doing so pretty soon to see if Suzuki’s style was present there as well.

That isn’t the only thing I dug about the first episode of this thing, but it was the thing that stood out the most. It also looks like they’re gonna play off of one of my favorite bits from the Lupinverse: the relationship between Lupin and Fujiko. I really dig how they complement each other. Lupin’s in it for the thrill of things and isn’t much for violence. It’s second nature for him, coming from a family of thieves. Fujiko, on the other hand, does what she does out necessity. She doesn’t enjoy the act so much as she enjoys the payoff. She’s in it for the money, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get paid. I never really took this as some sort of comment on women. I don’t see Fujiko as the manifestation of some lame “women are materialistic and selfish” concept.

Whereas Lupin does what he does because it’s who he is, was, and always will be, Fujiko is someone who became a thief and can’t escape the lifestyle. The opening credits of this new series hit on this concept pretty well. Is Fujiko in control of her life, or is her life of crime controlling her? She fully confident in her skills, and she needs that confidence to stay alive and get ahead of the competition, but is it to the point where she’s denying her true self? I always got the vibe that when she’s double-crossed Lupin and the others in the past, it was almost always against her true desires. It’s as if crime was a drug, and she’d hurt those she liked to get her fix. But she’s also damn good at hurting those she cares about, so at the same time she gets a rush out of that double-cross.

That’s what the crux of this series is probably gonna be. It’s all spelled out in that opening sequence. All that bondage imagery is representing Fujiko being bound to her lifestyle– both paralyzed by and empowered the pain. That opening sequence does a damn good job of laying out Fujiko’s character without having to resort to the usual info dumps and flashbacks that most anime rely upon. That way we can jump right into the action and see things play out in real-time. Least that’s the vibe that I’m getting at this point.

Yeah, this is damn good stuff. Exactly the sort of Lupin revival I’ve been craving. It’s sticking to the core elements of the series while expanding on them and doing something new. That’s pretty much the perfect way to revisit an older series.