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.

Smarter than the Average Polar Bear

 Anime, Cartoons, Polar Bear Cafe  Comments Off on Smarter than the Average Polar Bear
Nov 262012
 

Polar Bear Cafe. Hanna Barbara animal cartoons. Same universe. Different time periods.

Boomerang, Cartoon Network’s “let’s sluff off all this old shit onto a station no one can watch because these things don’t sell toys anymore” channel, had a little Yogi Bear marathon on Turkey Day. I hadn’t really watched any of those old HB animal cartoons in a while, so I sat down and watched a few episodes. It’s just as charmingly cheap as I remember, with the limited animation, reused backgrounds, and same two or three voices used for every incidental character.

In the midst of all of the comfortable familiarity I noticed something for the first time: Yogi Bear’s existence is pretty damn bleak. He and the other bears in Jellystone Park possess all of the intelligence and emotions of humans, but they’re treated like property. On several occasions Yogi refers to himself as “property of the government.” He isn’t a “person,” despite possessing many of the emotional and mental traits we associate with that concept– Yogi Bear is a thing in the eyes of humanity.

You could call Yogi’s situation slavery. He isn’t expected to do much in the way of labor– he’s only expected to pose for photographs with tourists and not steal their food– but he’s constantly threatened with being shipped off to the zoo if he steps out of line. Yogi doesn’t even have the right to live where he pleases. He has to depend on the grace of the government to determine if he gets rewarded with continued housing in his natural habitat.

But what makes matters all the worse is that Yogi and his fellow bears aren’t trusted by the government and its park rangers. Check this out. One episode deals with the Army running some war games in Jellystone Park. One side of the “war” decides to don bear costumes to infiltrate the “enemy” side. Yogi and Boo Boo get conscripted into the Army, since the soldiers can’t tell the difference between a real bear and some dude in a costume. They’re assumed to be lazy soldiers slacking off. One thing leads to another and Yogi teaches the soldiers how to “live off the land,” which means “stealing picnic baskets.” Thing is, these soldiers do it at gunpoint.

Ranger Smith’s conclusion: the bears have risen up and are revolting. First gut reaction. Those damn dirty bears are getting uppity and want to start a race war.

Things get worse. Smith and a few other rangers arm themselves and go to see if all of this is true. They run across some of the soldiers in bear disguise. Said soldiers fire blanks at the rangers to scare them off, since they don’t want civilians getting involved in their war games. The rangers, who apparently don’t realize there are tanks and shit in their forest, panic and hole up in the ranger office, thinking everything’s falling apart around them. When a tank driven by Yogi comes barreling down on the station, the rangers start talking as if they’ll be remembered like the soldiers at The Alamo– falling for the greater good to protect humanity from the bear uprising. Never mind Yogi’s trying to stop the tank and save the rangers. Nope. The humans in control of the bear population assume the worst every chance they get.

Bears aren’t trusted. There’s an entire episode devoted to Ranger Smith trying to trick Yogi into breaking the rules, so he can have Yogi shipped off to the zoo. Smith goes undercover as a polar bear and pretends to be a fellow bear who wants to live in the Park. He tries to get Yogi to steal picnic baskets, all while constantly reminding Yogi of the rules. He’s clearly baiting Yogi into committing a crime so he can be rid of the Park’s ringleader, and he isn’t afraid to use underhanded tricks to prove his assumptions.

Given that Yogi’s from the late 50s and early 60s, you could look at it as the early days of an animal civil rights movement. Yogi’s a free-thinking bear who wants to be treated as an equal. He’s no saint, but he’s no worse than any of the humans around him. Despite being “smarter than the average bear,” he just wants to be like everyone else– eating the same food, living in the same modes of shelter, and afforded the same rights. He’s something of an early activist for his kind.

Fast forward to the present and look at the world of Polar Bear Cafe. Animals are integrated into society. They still get the odd look, since not everyone is used to socializing with animals, but they don’t appear to be treated any differently as a whole. They can get driver’s licenses. They can own their own businesses. They can own their own homes. There might be some places in society where they aren’t fully accepted, since we see that animals are only fully accepted in roles and jobs humans consider animal-appropriate, so in a way they’re more or less in the same position as most minorities who live in countries with a dominant culture.

You could say that Yogi Bear takes place in Polar Bear Cafe’s past. Animals haven’t always had it this good, and at one time were nothing more than pieces of property to be sold and traded at will. Since then, animals have been able to integrate into human society and be accepted the way they are in Polar Bear Cafe.

There would be no Polar Bear Cafe or Bar the Grizzly without the zany struggles of Yogi Bear and Boo Boo.

The Red Squirrel Agenda

 Anime, Polar Bear Cafe  Comments Off on The Red Squirrel Agenda
Sep 072012
 

Polar Bear is a badass. He can slip out of any bizarre situation unharmed using his masterful mix of martial and culinary skills. He’s the Steven Seagal of the animal world.

But when faced with a pack of rabid, bargain-conscious housewives, he meets his match.

That bit with Panda Mama was pretty weird. It seemed pretty innocuous at first. Just a bunch of housewife types shopping and eating cake. But the Red Squirrel made a little snarky comment that colored the whole sequence. While she and Panda Mama are loading up on nuts at the grocery store, Red Squirrel criticizes Panda Mama for not stuffing enough nuts into her plastic bag:

“You won’t be able to survive in this capitalist society like that.”

Apparently I forgot to talk about this in a previous post, but when the red squirrels first popped up I immediately pegged them as undocumented workers. They work in a shed out behind Polar Bear’s place, doing a manual, menial, and most definitely low-paying job: sorting coffee beans. Polar Bear makes some offhand comment about them being part-timers or something, but the circumstances tell me these women are illegal immigrants. Polar Bear probably sees this as doing them a favor– giving them an under-the-table gig where they won’t be harassed by immigration officers and the like– all secluded and protected by Polar Bear’s connections and shit.

Red Squirrel’s aforementioned comment cements that idea in my head. She sees this concept of “all you can eat” as something inherent to a capitalist society, and her attitude suggest she’s not exactly down with that on a conceptual level. That tells me she’s likely from a country with more of a socialist bent. But while she’s not all that keen on this culture of excessive consumption, she can’t help but exploit it at the same time. By stretching out her plastic bag and stuffing as many nuts into it as possible, that’s her way of thumbing her nose at decadent capitalist culture while saving a few bucks at the same time. Win-win for her.

That also tells me that the panda clan has probably been in this part of the world for some time. They aren’t native to whatever country this is, but they don’t have that same level of awareness. Panda and his sister are clearly children of this country and not of the “old world,” and Panda Mama herself seems pretty acclimated to this society’s attitudes. They also have that swanky place of theirs. Even if the family shares in the bills, that place must cost some serious money. Maybe Panda Papa is an industrialist who owns factories over in China or something and chose to move his family out of the country or something.

But yeah, Red Squirrel and her penny-pinching attitude is the first thing to really defeat Polar Bear in this series. He believes that he’s being generous by offering half-price refills. After all, his coffee is hand-sorted and roasted by a master of the craft. This isn’t your diner-style, mass-produced coffee. This isn’t even Starbucks. This is fucking boutique here.

But she won’t have that. Half-price refills are “hotel prices.” That’s how the man and his capitalist pig ways gets you. Lure you in with cheap cakes and then milk you dry with overpriced drinks. And thus Polar Bear has to cave into their housewife powers and lose money on satiating their unconquerable thirst. Not even his polite mannerisms, such as holding the door for them, can save him from death by free refill.

Also: Did the K-On girls ever drink anything, or did they only eat cake? I never hear people complaining about them drinking tea or anything. I bet they’re a bunch of socialists trying to make a political statement. Let them eat cake, but don’t let the man make you drink expensive beverages.

The Great Penguin Race War

 Anime, Polar Bear Cafe  Comments Off on The Great Penguin Race War
Aug 092012
 

King penguins hate Emperor penguins. Emperor penguins hate King penguins. Who is to blame?

Humanity.

Yeah, when humans first arrived to Antarctica, the first penguins they encountered were pretty big. Those humans did what humans are apt to do: they associated that size with royalty. These big honkin’ penguins just had to be the kings of the species. Bam! King penguins.

Then some other humans traveled further into the continent, hit the South Pole, and found even bigger penguins? What’s bigger than a king? Kings just rule over countries. Emperors rule over  empires. A king is just some guy sitting on the throne in England or whatever, while an emperor is all Augustus Ceasaring up the place. So yeah, a penguin bigger than a King ought to be an Emperor.

So this is all about human classification. As far as we know, these penguin species didn’t even know each other before humans started  to flock to Antarctica. And even if they did have contact, there’s no sign of hostilities that we can see. So when Penguin and his rival square off in the latest episode of Polar Bear Cafe, the heart of their feud is man-made. They may perpetuate said conflict, but it originates out of human interference.

The same goes for the other penguins that pop up. The inter-species rivalry with the smaller penguins isn’t as heated, but there’s some jealousy and friendly ribbing going on when they compare the spelling of their different genera and the reasons for their names. These penguins lament that their names come from the differences in their beaks and heads– one being damned to have a feminine name regardless of gender while the other two are branded by such minute details as patterns in their head feathers. They’re clearly jealous of the Emperors and Kings for having royalty-based names, so they take to boasting that their genus name is easier to spell.

Again, these names were all created by humans. The penguins didn’t create these names, but they embrace them and have created cultural barriers based upon these artificial differences.

The parallel is pretty clear here: this is some dig on imperialism and shit like that. Those Europeans come barging in, creating political and cultural boundaries where such things didn’t exist before, or combining such things without regard for previously existing differences.

Penguins have been victimized by human imperialism of Antarctica in ways that other animal species don’t seem to have been affected. This could be due to their alien-like status. Outside of insane conspiracy theories and stuff like that, humans never lived in Antarctica. A few species migrate to South America, but for the most part penguins are not a part of the human subconscious. They haven’t been a part of ancient human interaction the way bears and the like have over thousands of years. Even the marsupials of Australia had contact with the natives to that continent, making them a part of one facet of human development.

That isn’t the case with penguins. They’re even more of an “other” than your regular integrated animal. They’re akin to the Native Americans when the Europeans were first traveling to and colonizing the Americas. Penguins are a wholly alien culture, and the colonizing culture doesn’t feel as bad about forcing them into holes they’d never force upon more familiar cultures.

And so the penguins were subjected to harsher categorization than more familiar species, and somehow penguins still embrace this despite it causing rifts in their community.

This helps explain why penguins seem to be second class citizens. Smartphones aren’t made with them in mind because, even with advances being made in animal-human relations, they’re still seen as something  different. That’s probably why someone like Penguin tries to become more like the humans around him. If being a penguin is such a lowly position, he may as well emulate his colonial superiors.

What this world needs is a Penguin Power Movement. Embrace the Antarctic homeland. Swimming instead of flying is beautiful.

Maybe we’re seeing the first steps taking place between Penguin’s nephew and his rival’s son.

 

The Law of the Wild (in the City)

 Polar Bear Cafe  Comments Off on The Law of the Wild (in the City)
Jul 222012
 

An otter (or a gang of otters) devoured Polar Bear in public. Grizzly catches word of this. What does he do?

He doesn’t attack the otter out of revenge. He doesn’t call the police. He’s wracked with grief over the death of his friend, but he does nothing to bring justice to what’s essentially a murder.

What’s up with that?

If the characters in question were humans, we’d assume that this would play out differently. Someone would go to the authorities. Someone would hunt down the assailant. Something would be done to make sure the guilty parties are punished in some way.

So why does Grizzly do nothing in this situation? Sure, you could say this is all played for laughs, since turning this into a police procedural to find out the truth wouldn’t elicit the intended situation, but I think there’s more at play here.

I think the world of Polar Bear Cafe plays by completely different rules.

Animals eat animals. They aren’t like us humans, who breed cattle for slaughter. They all live in the same “community” in the wild, inhabiting the same woods or plains or whatever, and when one of the carnivores gets hungry they chase down some animal that’s lower on the food chain and gobble it up. Just because animals have been integrated into human society to some degree doesn’t mean their instincts are gonna cease to operate.

The way Grizzly reacts, it seems as if public hunting like that is common place. If some animal eats another animal, that’s just the law of the wild, even if it’s going down on the streets of a sleepy little town like the one in this series. So even if it’s unnatural for a gang of otters to chow down on a Polar Bear, animal-on-animal violence is accepted in this society because that’s the natural way of life for animals.

So you gotta wonder if this changed laws in general. Is any form of murder acceptable? Are humans exempt from this law? Can a human kill another animal in public? Can humans kill humans? Is there some condition where the ingestion of the victim is necessary for the act to be legal? If you only eat certain parts of the body, do you have to pay fines?

The way I see it, in order to accommodate the nature of these integrated animals, all forms of murder have been made legal. What keeps the peace is the very fact that murder can happen at any time. There’s an uneasy truce at play. Anyone rounding around the corner could be eager to gulp you down, so everyone is ready for such a situation. You rarely see someone eating someone else because they don’t want to be the next victim. It’s a cold war of sorts, with no one willing to take the first bite in fear of everyone being eaten. The only time you see something happen is when a group of individuals work as a pack and take down an individual, much like how Grizzly imagined Polar Bear being eaten by otters.

Yeah, that’s the most logical conclusion.