Dec 302012
 

2012 was a bit of a weird year for me as far as anime goes. Most years I can narrow down my top choices to 10 or so pretty easily. This year, I found myself struggling with my choices once I got past the first six entries. I only had four or so slots to go, but I had at least ten series I considered worthy. So I went ahead and made this thing a full 15 series long this year.

In the end, the best two series are something of an Alpha and Omega. One is here to destroy everything we hold dear while the other wishes to build anew and create something from the ashes of otakudom. Yeah.

15. Daily Lives of High School Boys

High School Boys was cathartic. It took the piss out of the “high school kids doing nothing of consequence” genre by showing said kids being the sort of mean-spirited, dumb jackoffs they are in real life. That capacity to be a mean-spirited, dumb jackoff was the only thing that made those awkward teenage years tolerable, so anime’s tendency to shove a gallon of bleach down adolescence’s throat and wash away all of that small-minded pettiness does youth a great injustice. Problem is, that’s about all High School Boys has going for it. It’s a great takedown of  modern anime trends, but it doesn’t quite have the same mad brilliance of something like Milky Holmes. They’re both doing the same thing, but Milky Holmes takes everything that much further. High School Boys throws a punch while Milky Holmes launches the proverbial tactical nuke. Still, High School Boys is a funny little show. Also, it has one of the most horrifying endings in all of anime.

14. Aquarion EVOL

If Aquarion EVOL was a Hollywood actor, it would be Nicolas Cage. It’s batshit insane, cranking up the melodrama and mega-acting in an attempt to turn a pretty damn mediocre story into something better. Blahblahblah robots blahblahblah kidnapping women to repopulate blahblahblah something about love and being positive and stop trying to make me barf with all these positive messages. Had EVOL played everything straight, with your stock mecha show characters, it’d probably be a yet another shiny piece of shit with a Yoko Kanno soundtrack. But then we get all this shit about donuts and digging/filling holes and murderous music and permanent opposite days and, yeah, a dull show is made pretty damn amusing in the process. It’s like how Nic Cage made Johnny Blaze like Red Hots and 70s monkey movies in Ghost Rider or any other little touch he adds to a lot of his roles that make otherwise crappy movies watchable. But Aquarion needed to be a bit crazier to make up for its faults. It’s more Ghost Rider 1 than Wicker Man.

13. Thermae Romae

More anime series need to be like Thermae Romae. It has its high concept: Roman bath architect magically travels to modern-day Japan and appropriates modern bath designs in the past using ancient technology. That concept’s absurd. It’s hilarious. It’s clever. It’s also a concept that doesn’t really need the usual ~12 episodes to get its point across. Thermae Romae works because it gets its jokes in and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s pretty damn elegant in its execution. Please use this as some sort of template, Dudes Who Make Anime Stuffs.

12. Hells

Elvis runs a school in Hell. A cute girl dies a meaningless death and is damned just because. Abel wants revenge for being the first being with a soul to die. Frankenstein is moe Jesus. Hells is insanely fun shit. Check out this post for more insanity.

 

 

 

11. Poyopoyo

Poyopoyo’s based on one of those comic strip manga things. Peeps like to call them 4-koma, but that’s just an otaku term for “something like a newspaper comic strip that always has four panels, so let’s give it a new name and pretend it’s something new.” The term kinda cheapens and limits stuff like Poyopoyo, so I won’t be using that term. Poyopoyo’s pretty much a direct translation of these things, slapping together a few gags in a three-minute time span. What makes Poyopoyo work is the rapid pace at which said gags are delivered. There’s no lingering here, much like how you’d read one of these gag strips and move on to the next. It replicates the process of actually reading this sort of thing in the newspaper of manga magazine or whatever. Poyopoyo also nails what it’s like to “own” a cat. You think they’re doing something all cute and shit when they’re actually doing something predatory and disgusting. “Aww, he’s playing around with somet… oh, he’s actually eating some bug and toying with it at the same time.” Fun stuff.

Fujiko is the Frankenfatale

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Jun 022012
 

I wanna get one little awesome detail out of the way before we get to the meat of this week’s Lupin episode.

I loved how they used a freak show as a front for human trafficking. It’s one of those “hidden in plain sight” things that makes the whole thing that much more sleazy and evil. It isn’t hidden away in some well-guarded warehouse or something like you saw in, say, that Liam Neeson movie Taken. This is right there in the middle of a family friendly carnival. Right around the corner from that fish pond is some bastard Americans salivating over women like they’re million dollar Big Macs. And I especially liked that bit of era-appropriate technology, where they have bulky personal radios that everyone would assume is a taped guided tour  for the show, but is in fact a receiver so the attendees can listen in on the auction.

It was all very Octopussy in scope.

But yeah, that Fujiko stuff. Man.

What donned on me with this episode is how all of the main characters are based upon some preceding fictional character. Everyone is a descendant of some famous character, save for Fujiko. She isn’t based upon some famous thief or criminal or whatever, she’s simply based upon that femme fatale/Bond Girl archetype.

Basically, Fujiko isn’t an organic character. She isn’t from a lineage that has grown over time. She’s a wholly “created” character– a Frankenstein of sorts patched together from various “types” that preceded her. I guess you could call her a pastiche if you wanted to get all fancy and shit. She’s the seductress. She’s the tease. She’s all these “things,” but she isn’t her own person or carrying on the personage of someone else.

I think this series is going straight at that concept.

People have tossed around the idea that Fujiko was, like, a child prostitute or something like that and that life forced her down this path of crime and deceit. Yeah, I can see where people are getting that, but I think that’s a bit of a boring assumption. It’s the easy answer that explains everything but isn’t really interesting if you ask me. What I’m seeing here is that Fujiko has been bred or at the very least raised to become what she is today. Those owl men aren’t merely predatory men looking to exploit her. The way we see them measuring her and testing her and inspecting her, I don’t think this is merely a matter of usage. They don’t just want Fujiko, they want to mold her, and they have a specific purpose in mind.

This idea popped to mind when that prophet dude said something about trying to find someone “suitable” for Fujiko. Turns out that dude was working for this Count dude that we have to assume is the main owl guy from Fujiko’s memories. If this were a simple matter of “Fujiko was used as a child” I don’t think this guy would have any vested interest in her after all these years beyond any desire to “clean up” his messes.

No. Fujiko was/is being groomed for something. This Count and whoever else is involved with him want her to become something that they feel is of great importance, and it has something to do with the talents that she’s amassed. They’ve turned her into this badass assassin who can use her social skills, sex appeal, and martial talents to take down and/or use anyone she pleases. And it also seems like they’re trying to find someone who is her “equal” for some related purpose.

What all of that is, I have no idea. And maybe I’m totally wrong about that. But this has a very Hamyuts Meseta from Book of Bantorra vibe to it. Hamyuts was hand-crafted to be the one to take down Ruruta if need be, and I have a feeling Fujiko has a “higher purpose” intended for her as well, and said purpose also involves Lupin.

(There’s also some connections between Hamyuts and Fujiko as far as they see themselves. When Minth reads Hamyuts with his power, he sees her self-loathing. Tie that into Fujiko’s attempt to murder that work of art girl who she sees as a reflection of herself. Both characters have been forced into a life they hate, and in turn they’ve learned to hate themselves.)

And all of this is a way of crafting Fujiko’s purpose in the greater Lupin mythos. She isn’t just the Frankenfatale who’s pasted together from men’s fantasies. Her purpose in the story is to be someone who was crafted to be such a person by forces within the actual story (Rather than simply being made in that image by the writer.) and now she’s going to have her chance to confront those forces and say “Fuck you for what you did to me.” They’re taking her stereotype and giving her a chance to literally fight its manifestation.

In my crazy conspiracy theory world at least, but I think I’m on the right track here.

Jigen VS Fujiko

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Apr 142012
 

Jigen’s always hated Fujiko. They don’t have a frenemy relationship. They aren’t playful rivals. There’s no hidden lust boiling beneath the surface. They’re two completely incompatible people forced to deal with one another because of a mutual friend. Least that’s the vibe I’ve always gotten seeing the two of them interact in the various Lupin series and whatnot.

And Jigen has plenty of reasons to feel this way. Fujiko’s essentially Lupin’s only weakness. She’s all about the double cross and the backstab, and despite all of that Lupin comes crawling back to her like the slavish puppy he is. All of that’s a game to Lupin– he’s all about the flirting with danger and dames– but to Jigen all that flirtation’s nothing but bullshit.

At the same time, I always felt that Jigen’s loathing of Fujiko was a bit petty. She doesn’t always play turncoat, but Jigen questions her regardless. He’s a bit of a dick towards her to be honest, but that’s part of the charm of their interaction. Sometimes you just plain don’t like someone. It’s irrational. You know it. You don’t care. That’s Jigen and Fujiko’s relationship.

Then this episode of the new Lupin happened.

Jigen’s loathing of Fujiko is fully warranted now. It’s explained. It has meaning that’s fully rational. You don’t easily forgive someone involved in a scheme that results in the death of the woman you love. Fujiko may have been a mere pawn in the scheme, but it was her actions that led to the end result. Without Fujiko, Jigen’s love would likely still be alive.

Jigen will no longer seem like such an asshole for instantly questioning Fujiko, at least within the context of this particular take on the Lupin mythos. And I think we’ve lost something with that.

Don’t get me wrong. This was a fucking brilliant episode within its own context. I’m absolutely loving this series. I’m loving how we’re getting a new, more nuanced take on this classic characters. It’s all within the spirit of the original shit while doing new shit. It’s awesome.

But at the same time, this one little tidbit is different in a way that’s different. The dynamics of two of the characters have been changed. Not for the better. Not for the worst. Just different. Knowing that this series was gonna explore the relationships between Fujiko and the other characters, I was hoping we’d get to see my initial take on these two characters get expanded upon. In the end I got something that goes in the opposite direction.

Yeah. It’s just different. Different enough to warrant babbling about. And different enough to make me dig the series all the more.

Light It Up (Illogically)

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May 062011
 

I’ve been slowly working on the original Lupin the 3rd TV series. The one from the early 70s. The one where the theme song is just a dude sining “Lupin the 3rd” over and over again. Pretty swanky stuff– damn appropriate for the era.

And it also shows its age by adhering to a certain style of logic. Or lack thereof by most people’s terms. But I love this sort of shit.

Take episode five. This is the episode that introduces Goemon to the series. It also acts as the first meeting between Goemon and Lupin, and they don’t care much for each other right off the bat. Goemon’s been hired to assassinate Lupin, and of course Lupin doesn’t care much for the whole “I’m gonna die before my time” shtick. That makes sense and all, since Goemon’s the prototypical silent, badass assassin in anime.

That makes sense for their initial meet-up. What doesn’t make sense is why Lupin’s hanging out in the Japanese wilderness to begin with. The episode starts with Lupin and Jigen playing some con game with Goemon. They play themselves off as Hollywood show types looking for a new act, and they applaud Goemon’s prowess as he does his usual training routine of cutting in half everything that gets in his way with a single slice of his blade. There’s no set-up to this scene. No “yeah, we’ve cased out this joint and we wanna pull one on this Goemon dude” or anything like that. It’s just BAM we’re there and we’re running with this scenario. There’s no logic to this meeting beyond “we need to get these guys together and we don’t wanna waste time with all the details getting to that point.”

I like that sort of thing, especially in an episodic series like Lupin. We don’t need all the small talk leading up to why things are going down. Those details just bog us down and keep us from getting to the meat of the situation– in this case being the fact that Lupin and Goemon need to meet up and get into a throwdown. Reasoning be damned.

It doesn’t matter why Lupin’s up in the mountains. All that matters in the grand scheme of things is that he’s there and he’s gonna bust out some experimental rocket fuel that ignites on contact with the air and toss it on Goemon as a means to defeat the modern day samurai. And all that matters is that, while completely on fire, Goemon is able to toss a grappling hook at Lupin, allow the fire to quickly travel across the rope, and ignite Lupin on fire as well, leading to the match being a draw.

This whole thing’s about one thing: Lupin and Goemon are equally badass. That’s this scene’s thesis, and it isn’t wasting our time on exposition explaining how it got to said thesis. It might defy conventional narrative logic, but it’s pretty damn elegant in getting to the root of shit. It doesn’t work in every situation, but it works brilliantly in a series like Lupin. That’s some awesome stuff there.