Scattered Thoughts – Ito Junji: Collection and how to fail at horror

     It’s no secret that this season’s biggest horror anime isn’t that great. It’s really a shame because manga of Junji Ito usually is very entertaining. On the other hand, the outcome was to be expected to some extent – a previous attempt to adapt Ito’s manga also failed horribly. Then maybe Ito’s works aren’t suited to be animated? Looking even more broadly, are horror stories capable of evoking that specific emotion in an animated form? At least to this question I have an answer, and that is yes. So let’s look at what Collection did wrong, comparing it to some better representatives of the genre.

     ///EDIT: last night Super Eyepatch Wolf uploaded a video about Collection, and it’s not unexpectedly right to the point. I’m not sure I can add much to the discussion, but this piece is already written, so oh well. I guess I need to execute my ideas immediately…///



Scattered Thoughts – Koi wa Ameagari no You ni and Rashomon

     For any anime lover Koi wa Ameagari no You ni should be a known thing this season regardless of how you perceive a possibility of a romance between people with such a huge age gap. Even if you aren’t cool with the premise, I think the way the story evolves is far more enjoyable than an average anime and I probably don’t even need to mention the quality of visual storytelling – at least for me the show is always a joy to watch. Rashomon on the other hand may have escaped your radar, because it’s a short story written in 1915 by the acclaimed Japanese writer Ryuunosuke Akutagawa. You may ask what that has to do with this anime, and I can answer that actually quite a lot. So much that I wouldn’t be surprised if Koi wa Ameagari no You ni itself had been named Rashomon. Bear with me for a little while and let’s find out why.


Scattered Thoughts – Saya no Uta and morbid curiosity

     Fuminori was sitting in a place that should’ve been a café. Yet it clearly wasn’t. Everything seemed a perfect nightmare material – every single object there looked like it was made from living flesh, various internal organs, and gore; walls, the floor and the ceiling included. Even worse, next to Fuminori sat the creatures. Apparitions so hideous that the shortest of glimpses at them could haunt you the rest of your life. Their stench reeked of everything a normal person would keep a distance of a mile or so, and their distorted gurgling voices squealed barely understandable words. That wasn’t all – Fuminori knew that these monsters once were his dear friends, now completely unrecognizable and so disgusting he could barely retain his calm. Fuminori was the only normal being in this warped place, and it wasn’t a nightmare, it was his reality, and he was alone in it.

Nice world, isn't it?

     So cheerfully begins Saya no Uta, a visual novel created way back in 2003 but still retaining its uniqueness in the medium. There’s probably no reason beating around the bush so I may as well use the trump card that should get you interested – Saya no Uta was one of the first creations of Gen Urobuchi and the team at Nitroplus. Nitroplus is best known for releasing the acclaimed Steins;Gate visual novel and also for being involved with Fate/Zero novels, that also incidentally were written by Urobuchi. In Saya no Uta the man clearly didn’t hold back and pumped the visual novel full of depressing and sometimes disgusting content that would never be tolerable in, say, an anime. Usually art is consumed in order to be entertained, but Saya no Uta isn’t anything I’d call a pleasantly enjoyable experience. The dark side of it is interestingly captivating though. If you aren’t against some morbid curiosity, that is. Bear with me for a while to find out more, but only if you’re brave enough. I can’t stress enough that Saya no Uta is aimed to mature people, and only those with high tolerance levels. (more…)

Scattered Thoughts – CR Anime Awards (Part 2/2)

     Hello again, part one can be found here. Hope you’ll enjoy the continuation of my thoughts on Crunchyroll Anime Awards!

Villain of the Year

Stain (Boku no Hero Academia) / Tanya (Youjo Senki) / Bondrewd (Made in Abyss) / Cartaphilus (Mahoutsukai no Yome) / Hiro (Inuyashiki) / Usagi (Juuni Taisen)

     Another likely win for Boku no Hero – a beloved show about heroes should have some good villains, right? Even for someone only vaguely familiar with Youjo Senki it’s clear that Tanya should provide a good fight, though in her case she is more of an antihero than a villain. Bondrewd on the other hand has absolutely nothing to do with this list. He had a few minutes of presence on screen and doesn’t matter that he’s involved with some huge and apparently terrifying experiments that horribly affected Nanachi anad Mitty. He wasn’t prominent for the show’s present story and even if it’s very likely to change in the upcoming second season, I don’t see him being worthy to be nominated. Cartaphilus is better suited for the best villain role, and he actually participated in enough bad stuff to be remembered. The problem is that Mahoutsukai no Yome isn’t a show that really needs villains and therefore Cartaphilus isn’t the most frequent visitor on screen. From reading the manga I remember Hiro as being rather bland – he just suddenly became a villain for seemingly little reason and for the whole manga showed little progression from being just a bad guy for the sake of it. His actions in the end also came as not really believable considering his behavior earlier. Still, out of every nominee that I’m familiar with he seems to be the closest to the archetypal villain.

Best OP

ACCA / Mahoutsukai no Yome / Shingeki no Kyojin / Boku no Hero Academia S2 / Princess Principal / Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu S2

     Finally a category of items that I can say I’m fully familiar with. People call ACCA’s OP stylish not without a reason. The visuals, although fairly minimalistic, tell many things about the story, the coloring choices also look nothing but pleasant to the eye and the only thing that doesn’t sit well with me is the music, but that’s only a personal preference. The jazzy part accentuates the slice of life part of the show, but what does the hip-hop mean? Mahoutsukai no Yome gave us quite a unique performance – the song is easily recognizable, and visuals depict Chise’s journey from total darkness to a place where she resides now. I wouldn’t call it my favorite of all time (too long dark shots where nothing is happening and seemingly little narrative “meat”) but it is certainly memorable. Shingeki no Kyojin does what it usually does – pumping you up to fight Titans in the best possible way. Well, this OP shows its full strength only by the end while OP 1 of the first season was an incarnation of concentrated musical power. Anyway, this one is still a damn good OP. Boku no Hero OP is pretty similar – just characters preparing to do some stuff and doing some stuff, though on a far more subdued level. I’m not that impressed with Princess Principal either. Sure, it tells a little story, shows some character cards and has that clock wheel imagery, but I believe I’ve seen better. Rakugo, for example. Once again I think this show did the best. Music is perfectly synchronized with the visuals, the story is the most packed despite being rather simplistic. The music also perfectly echoes the general style of the OST so that’s another positive. In later episodes Sukeroku had his eyes painted red so this subtle change just adds to what I believe to be the best of this selection. Apart from these mentioned I think Kuzu no Honkai and KonoSuba deserve some honorable mentions.

Best ED

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond / Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon / Houseki no Kuni / Net-Juu no Susume / Just Because! / 3-gatsu no Lion

     EDs a far easier to judge due to mostly being fairly inconsequential. From this list Net-juu no Susume, 3-gatsu no Lion and especially Houseki no Kuni try to be more artistic than necessary with the latest probably being my favorite. Still, I think more visually impressive EDs like ones of ACCA, Little Witch Academia and Shoujo Shuumatsyu Ryokou are more than on par with this list. Yet, my absolute favorite has to be that of Kuzu no Honkai – Sayuri generally is a very enjoyable singer to listen to, and the trippy visuals perfectly demonstrate the complicated relationships of the characters of the show.

Best Boy

Shoto (Boku no Hero Academia) / Rei (3-gatsu no Lion) / Kazuma (KonoSuba) / Deku (Boku no Hero Academia) / Fafnir (Kobayashi san Chi no Maid Dragon) / Yakumo (Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu S2)

     Well, there should be something wrong if you nominate an old dude in a category for the best boy. Sure, I like Yakumo’s character as anybody but he doesn’t belong here in the slightest. Best oji-san? Sure. Out of others, it doesn’t seem right for Boku no Hero to have two nominees, but oh well, it’s a show about fighting boys so I guess that’s inevitable. I wouldn’t say I really like Rei or Kazuma but I get why they got there. To be frank, I don’t think any of last year’s boy characters left a lasting impression. There have been some fine ones but nothing exceptional. At least for me.

Best Girl

Akko (Little Witch Academia) / Ochako (Boku no Hero Academia) / Moriko (Net-juu no Susume) / Serval (Kemono Friends) / Tsuyu (Boku no Hero Academia) / Chise (Mahoutsukai no Yome)

     Again I think it’s not fair to have two characters from the same show. It’s not that we lacked memorable girls in 2017, right? Out of this list I think Chise is still too incomplete as a human being to be worthy of winning, and Akko may as well claim the title for all I know. She definitely had a presence and basically was the backbone of the whole show. If it would be possible to nominate a duo for this category, my vote would definitely go to Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou, but neither Chi nor Yuu are that good taken alone. It’d be appropriate to have Hanabi from Kuzu no Honkai here though. I may be overvaluing the show but it did left a strong impression, so why not. And her character design is terrific.

Best Film

Koe no Katachi / Kimi no Na wa / Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni / Girls und Panzer / Kizumonogatari III / Fate/stay Night: Heaven’s Feel I

     A pretty great selection there, isn’t it? I bet everyone will vote for Kimi no Na wa which I still keep for some lazy afternoon. I’ve heard only great things about Kizumonogatari and Heaven’s Feel, so these two also look like a worthy competition. I probably don’t need to reiterate how much do I like Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni, and Koe no Katachi was also pretty amazing. I think any of these movies would be considered as likely candidates to win any time, so it’s very unfortunate that they have to compete. in the end it’s just a hopeless fight with the hype of Kimi no Na wa so I sadly don’t see any other film winning this one.

Best CGI

Houseki no Kuni / Seikaisuru Kado / Re:Creators / Shingeki no Kyojin S2 / Knight’s and Magic / Inuyashiki

     Let’s be frank, if Houseki no Kuni doesn’t win, there will probably be a rebellion or something like that. Having a decent anime with entirely CG characters seemed impossible a few years back, and now we have an instance of one that people genuinely like and adore. I guess it can only be rivaled by Berserk. Or Hand Shakers.

Best Score

Made in Abyss / Little Witch Academia / Houseki no Kuni / Mahoutsukai no Yome / ACCA / Re:Creators

     I miss Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou in the list. Still, the nominees look great. Apart from Houseki no Kuni which I haven’t seen I can assure that every show is listed there not without a reason. Thinking about how much a score adds to the show, balancing between being not noticeable (in good way) and surfacing up to shine is quite a difficult thing to do, and not everything depends on the score itself. Anyway, I think Made in Abyss should come out on top, as much as everybody (including me) loves Hiroyuki Sawano.

     So yeah, these are my thoughts about the nominees and their possible replacements. For the most part I guess my opinions (or at least guesses) aren’t that different from the public consensus. I only try to push some of my favorites (Rakugo or Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni) where it’s appropriate (or not). I guess everyone does similar things after all. It seems likely that as last time Yuri!!! on Ice gathered everything it could, Boku no Hero will do the same, only to a lesser extent. It’s a good think that the nominees seem far better balanced this time, though there still are some questionable aspects. Still, it looks to be improving, so that’s great.


Scattered Thoughts – CR Anime Awards (Part 1/2)

     First and foremost – Crunchyroll Anime Awards is a stupid thing. Second and not less important – it’s still fun. Many people have already said it countless times – popular vote no matter how you look at it remains a popularity vote. Certainly not everyone can boast of having watched all the nominated shows but even now I don’t think there’s a single person completely happy with the nominees as they are. Sure, all these professional judges and stuff seem to make the Awards look like a legit thing. And of course, you can’t deny that there’s also some truth in the public opinion. There’s probably a reason why one show is more popular than another. Well, in the end shows’ evaluation is a superposition of their popularity and their real value (definitely skewed towards the popularity though). Why then such a shady thing is fun? Firstly, it seems a very human thing to make countless lists and rank things. Sometimes when your opinion coincides with others’, it’s very gratifying. When you don’t agree with something, it’s a good chance to rethink your stance towards one show or another and try to understand whether you points are valid and what did other people find good or bad about them. And inevitably if there are different opinions (and people are civilized enough) a discussion is bound to happen, and that’s one of the cornerstones of any community. I guess the most important thing is to understand that in the end our opinions remain our own and no awards show and no other person can have a superior opinion. Then, taking everything with a grain of salt, we should have a pretty good time discussing anime. Well, it’s the next great thing after watching anime, right?

     So yeah, I decided this year to say a few things (even if some of them might be pretty shallow) about each of the categories and the nominees. I’m certainly not qualified to do that since during last year I watched about 20 airing anime and that’s a tiniest bit of the huge amount of shows that should be considered to make a decent judgement. Well, there’s also Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni, Koe no Katachi and Kimi no Na wa that weirdly are prescribed to 2017 even though they all aired in 2016. Anyway, even if there are categories that I have absolutely no idea what to make of them, it’s still a nice opportunity to once again see what can be said about 2017 in the anime world and how my opinions fit in the general picture of the community. Let’s start!

Anime of the year

3-gatsu no Lion S2 / Made in Abyss / Boku no Hero Academia S2 / Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu S2 / Little Witch Academia / Houseki no Kuni

     Personally I’d like for either Made in Abyss or, better still, Rakugo to win. Made in Abyss still is unfinished and while the journey up until now has been an amazing experience, I feel connected to Rakugo more. Well, I guess it’s natural to feel more attached to drama in a realistic setting than to two kids descending a giant hole, as brilliant as it was. Made in Abyss already received lots of love from the fans and I feel Rakugo should be appreciated more. At least by larger audiences. Who’s likely to win? Boku no Hero, simply because everyone seems to watch it. I wouldn’t mind Houseki no Kuni winning though. Just for the sake of finally giving us another CG anime rather than Berserk to talk about, and for completely opposite reasons. I’ve seen the first season of 3-gatsu, and it didn’t impress me – the instantaneous 180 degree mood swings felt out of place, but I get why it has some fans passionately following it. Pretty much the same can be said about Little Witch Academia – while it was decent, having previous OVAs as a comparison didn’t help to think about this one as truly amazing. From anime that escaped being nominated I’d definitely add Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni.

Manga of the Year

Golden Kamuy 1 / Sabishisugite Lesbian Fuzoku ni Ikimashita Report / Otouto no Otto 1 / Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni / Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu / Dungeon Meshi 1

     Firstly, I don’t think it’s fair to compare already finished manga with some first volumes. A mangaka may start an interesting story but have no idea how to wrap it up, and in my mind that’s a huge factor. Apparently only in my mind. Well, I haven’t got much to say about this category as I mostly tend to read already finished manga. Watching anime weekly already may cause problems of simply forgetting what happened previously and reading manga on monthly basis or so is far more demanding. Still, out of the nominees I know quite well Rakugo and Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni, and Sabishisugite Lesbian Fuzoku ni Ikimashita Report intrigued me enough to actually read it. In terms of the story, I’d be happy if either Rakugo or Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni won. How actual votes will be distributed remains a complete mystery to me – to see witch anime is popular is far easier than to analyze manga reading statistics.

Best Action

Boku no Hero Academia S2 / Houseki no Kuni / Kekkai Sensen & Beyond / Mobile Suit Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans S2 / Shingeki no Kyojin S2 / Fate/Apocrypha

     Well, I haven’t seen any of them. Weird, isn’t it? I guess pure action doesn’t have that appeal to me, especially if it has a more shounen side to it. I’d bet my money on Boku no Hero, just because it’s popular. Again, it would be nice to see Houseki no Kuni win, if only to get more appreciation of good CG. Re:Creators seems like it would be a nice addition to the nominees.

Best Drama

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu S2 / 3-gatsu no Lion S2 / Made in Abyss / Mahoutsukai no Yome / Kuzu no Honkai / ACCA

     Contrary to best Action category, I’ve a fairly good grasp at this one. I’ve watched everything of it, except the second season of 3-gatsu, but as I’ve seen the first one, it should probably count as well. I think Made in Abyss caused the most resonance in the community, with Mahoutsukai no Yome coming close. The latter is a good show, but it wasn’t as unexpected and didn’t have such an effect of making moeblobs suffer. ACCA was more of a slice of life show with the drama part concealed quite deeply. Kuzu no Honkai was especially enjoyable, but my preference once again is Rakugo. I just can’t have enough of it. Koe no Katachi and Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni had plenty of drama in them so an extended list should have these two entries as well.

Best Comedy

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon / Osomatsu-san S2 / Little Witch Academia / KonoSuba S2/GAMERS! / Tsuredure Children

     The standard phrase is “Comedy is subjective” and in this case I completely agree. Most of times I found KonoSuba’s humor to be flat, though I can’t deny the greatness of the visual style. It’s extremely likely to win though. Little Witch Academia in my book doesn’t count as comedy at all. Well, it has comedy, but the show’s focus lies definitely not there. I have a feeling that Kobayashi should probably best cater my sense of humor, but that remains to be seen. Hopefully sooner than later.

Best Slice of Life

Net-Juu no Susume / Tsuki ga Kirei / Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou / Kemono Friends / Sakura Quest / Demi-chan wa Kataritai

     I guess the vote will be decided by the question whether people still remember the Kemono Friends meme, which is pretty likely. My favorite is Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou, and it also seems to have a good chance. It is far darker and the slice of life side of it is just a means of examining deeper stuff, so it might be more appropriate to nominate the show for Drama Category or something like that. Anime That Make You Think could also be a good one. Sakura Quest is a good anime but I’m afraid it just pales in comparison with others. Natsume Yuujinchou Roku or Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni could be worthy additions to the category. To go on a tangent, it’s quite funny that next year’s slice of life category could be almost completely filled with shows from this Winter season. Weird how many shows of that kind we get. Not that I complain.

Best Continuing Series

3-gatsu no Lion / Mobile Suit Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans / Dragon Ball Super / Detective Conan / All Out!! / Naruto Shippuden

     Um… how could it be that Rakugo got nominated several times already but it isn’t there? The list already seems like it’s scraping the barrel, so missing this one seems weird. Another of my long time favorites Natsume Yuujinchou Roku seems like it could be there, even if it would have little chance of achieving anything. It’s also baffling that so highly regarded show like KonoSuba didn’t make the list either. And, well, Monogatari? Anyone? I usually prefer shorter anime so I’m not anyone worthy of deciding anyway.

Best Animation

Houseki no Kuni / Boku no Hero Academia S2 / Little Witch Academia / 3-gatsu no Lion / Koe no Katachi /  Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon

     Who thought that putting a feature film among TV shows (unless it’s Violet Evergarden) is a fair game? Let me ask who’s the suitable candidate to win. Well, Houseki no Kuni again gets brownie points for being a CG masterpiece but it still isn’t a rival for Koe no Katachi, is it? About others, if the production of 3-gatsu is the same as it was during the first season, I’ve no idea what is the show doing here. Sure, Shaft can animate but it isn’t a studio to provide constant sakuga and refrain from cutting corners whenever possible. Little Witch Academia also had some incredible moments, especially during first few episodes but I wouldn’t call it an outstanding production overall.

Hero of the Year

Deku (Boku no hero Academia) / Gin (Yuuki Yuna wa Yuusha de Aru) / Akko (Little Witch Academia) / Kukuri (Mahoujin Guru Guru) / Chise (Mahoutsukai no Yome) / Nanachi (Made in Abyss)

     A difficult one for me. On paper any character from a show whose title has words “hero” and “academia” should be a winner by default (and that’s likely to happen for real), but as I haven’t seen it, I’ve no idea. The same goes for Yuuki Yuna and the deciding matter then comes down to your preference to traditional heroes or magical girls. I think Akko comes very close to being a traditional hero – an underdog who struggles doing her best in order to prove her true value to herself as well as others. It’s a very shounen story after all. At the state that Chise is right now, I wouldn’t say she has escaped a damsel in distress stage and fully converted to being a hero. She isn’t particularly concerned about usual hero stuff like saving the world, she just tries to survive and to help her friends when an opportunity presents itself. Nanachi is very similar. Her differences lie in the fact that she had fairly limited screen time to leave an impression of being a hero. Also, she started to get involved into Riko and Reg’s stuff mainly due to her curiosity and not because she had a heroic heart. These girls certainly have what it takes to be a hero but they seem to be preoccupied with other stuff too much to be ideal heroes.

     This already is a rather lengthy post, so I thought it’s better to split it into two parts and continue after some time here. Hope you have a great time and will continue reading when the second part comes! For now – what do you think about the nominees and the Awards themselves?


Scattered Thoughts – why did Gyo fail?

     First of all – why is Gyo important? It isn’t, really. Still, there are a number of reasons why Gyo is worth investigating. For once, Junji Ito is a name you probably encountered if you’ve had any opportunity to familiarize with horror manga. Despite being popular, the only Ito’s work that has received an anime adaptation remains Gyo (which is interesting by itself), and Ito’s relation with anime remains relevant because of the new adaptation of some of his stories that has been announced some time ago. Returning to Gyo, its anime adaptation was made by ufotable, and that’s another interesting fact since at the time it was made the studio was just starting to build up its fame – Kara no Kyoukai movies weren’t as known and Fate/Zero had started half a year ago, but in times of Steins;Gate it was crucial not to be a studio known only for one good anime. Other ufotable’s projects had been even more obscure, so Gyo was a perfect opportunity to show off technical capabilities and affirm the name of the studio as one among the best in the industry. Still, the result seems to be rather frowned upon, so there arises a question – who’s at fault – Junji Ito or ufotable?

The former dental technician - sensei

     Junji Ito is an acclaimed mangaka and arguably one of the best in making horror stories. To be frank, that’s not really the truth. The truth is that Ito is incredible in thinking up how to mess with everyday world in order to bring horror elements and create an ominous and very unsettling atmosphere. His realistic and detailed drawings (especially all the unnatural and monster stuff) make every story far more disturbing. Still, the problem is that even if Ito knows how to get everything started, it seems like he has no idea how to conclude anything. More often than not the horror elements are so powerful that they sweep the ordinary world away and we get effectively an apocalypse. The characters usually are just left hanging with no clear conclusion when the things get so bad there’s no way of returning to at least a partially normal living conditions. On the other hand, Ito’s short works tend to stop right after the climax and thus leave some space to ponder what happened and what might happen next. It turns out that developing a story and providing a resolution sometimes is a worse choice than leaving an open ending exactly after the big reveal or a strong horrifying moment.

A walking fish?..

     Gyo in this context isn’t an exception. I guess the mystery of what exactly the horror elements are in this case is explained right away so it doesn’t really count as spoilers, does it? Anyway, you have been warned because the pleasure of seeing dead fish walking on seemingly mechanical legs is a pleasure you can’t miss. Ito has confirmed that Steven Spielberg’s Jaws had been a huge influence on him. Ito just came to think that a more terrifying thing than a shark in a sea would be a shark that can walk on land. And walk on land it does. A story seems pretty basic as a couple of tourists in Okinawa (at first) – Kaori and Tadashi – start observing weird things and how they get out of control in a true Junji Ito fashion.

...yup, this walking shark...

     Why Gyo fails as a satisfying manga mainly rests on the choice of trying to explain the strange phenomena. It could be argued that characters also aren’t that good, which is quite true, especially in Kaori’s case. The girl mainly spends time in a neurosis state arguing with Tadashi quite annoyingly. Yet, I think that it at least gives some uniqueness as a fighting couple isn’t what you usually get as the main characters in any manga. Especially when things escalate you can’t really accuse anyone of acting the way they do – human tolerance to weirdness and horror isn’t infinite after all. Still, let’s leave the characters aside because the pseudo-scientific explanation that hardly feels plausible with the best wishes overshadows everything else. Of course you have to have germs that were secretly cultivated for military purposes. Even if that was an alright explanation, there’re still many things left in the dark – for example how does the gas produced by the germs can make dead bodies move in a non-random way and pursue people? Do the mechanical legs multiply? The story finally lost its momentum near the end when a totally bizarre and pretty random circus scene was inserted that doesn’t really feel like being from the same story and that is another recurring flaw of Ito’s manga.

...and a walking arm?

     Ito usually gets inspired by random daily events that are only a bit unusual or unexpected, be it a thought he had, a shop window he saw or a woman that looked in a particular way. Ito then takes these elements and works them into being more unsettling, not necessarily trying to make a horror manga. Such stories sometimes form larger narratives but as the mangaka doesn’t usually try to think particularly good ways to connect them, the end product might become anything from the cohesiveness of Uzumaki’s everything encompassing spirals to disjoint and having very little common elements stories like Black Paradox or Gyo itself.

The quite famous Amigara fault

     To go off on a tangent a bit, there are two short stories included in the published Gyo volumes. The Enigma of Amigara Fault is probably the most well-known and regarded  as one of the better of Ito’s works, examining the claustrophobia and at the same time morbid fascination with confined spaces. The story also can be a perfect example of Ito at his best – not trying to explain stuff too much and just leaving everything at the climax. Nevertheless, it’s the other story that appealed to me almost infinitely more than Gyo itself – The Sad Tale of the Principal Post spans only 4 pages and is impossible not to spoil but it shatters all of reader’s expectations and masterfully provides a totally unexpected conclusion which by its ridiculousness is able to overcome its unbelievability. It’s only 4 pages, please go and read it.

The new Kaori with her red-shirt...I mean red-skirt...
anyway, it's the new Kaori with her new friends

     Let’s now leave the manga and jump right to its anime adaptation, though in some respects it can hardly be called one. The first minutes of the anime already present plenty of differences – Kaori is the only main character (Tadashi’s left in Tokyo which means we hardly see him at all) and it’s two of her friends that the girl starts experiencing the fish attack. As the story moves on, it becomes clear that for the most part Kaori’s and Tadashi’s original roles are swapped. The couple’s struggle to survive gets transformed into quite a simple story of Kaori trying to find her boyfriend in all the confusion. Along the way she’s helped by a random journalist because you can’t have a story without a male lead, can you? Naturally you begin to wonder why there’re so many changes introduced. To some extent it’s understandable because having a strong female lead usually is commendable but the way it affected other parts of the story makes it barely Ito’s Gyo. And all these changes just seem pointless. Why would you introduce new characters and split the original experiences of Kaori and Tadashi when there was a completely normal and reasonable story in the manga? Also, the anime tried to appeal to all sorts of audiences, and that means that the horror isn’t the only thing you get in Gyo. The thing is that the anime in the beginning didn’t shy away from including fanservice, and fanservice of the most ridiculous level – Gainax jiggles, obligatory pointless sex and a woman getting undressed while trying to escape some nasty pursuer. Moreover, the said woman (try to guess which of Kaori’s friends she is) was just an original character made specifically for that purpose and Junji Ito could never have drawn anything like that. But even fanservice isn’t consistent – the creators forcefully added new scenes but somehow missed a shower scene in the original manga, and that scene even had some justification for being there.

Run, Forrest, run!

     When you watch the anime, you find some certain elements of the manga or scenes that clearly were inspired by the original Gyo, but in any case it remains only elements and the essence is lost. In such a case a walking octopus among all these fish becomes a pretext to introduce a tentacle scene. You know, tentacles? Any spirit of the manga and any element that makes Ito’s works recognizable as his own just simply vanished. At least in one respect the anime was equal to its counterpart – the questions concerning the mechanism by which the fish can walk, some other over the top moments involving the gas and a seemingly incomplete (although completely different) ending leave a lot to be desired.

Ito's stories never end well, do they?

     The animation belongs to an interesting period in ufotable’s history. Character designs try to be somewhat close to original manga ones but ultimately they end up being far more simplified and vastly different from the beauty of Ito’s art. At least usual Ito’s same-face-syndrome has been taken care of. The designs also are quite fluid – one moment you can even start guessing whether some rotoscoping was involved and other times you can wince uncomfortably at the seemingly unfinished product. Anyway, the designs come from a period when ufotable still cared to draw not as-pointy-as-you-might-prick-yourself (Tales series) noses, if any noses at all (Fate series). The backgrounds signify the point when the studio started moving to its present aesthetic, that being 3D more times than not, and that 3D looking quite lifeless and at odds with the 2D characters. Some 3D elements in Gyo look surprisingly well-made, as ufotable’s 3D department in general is quite adept at what they do, it’s just that it doesn’t really mesh with the 2D stuff. The studio might be excused because at the time of making Gyo the 2nd season of Fate/Zero was also in works but that’s only a fool’s argument. Even if 3D was done far better, I still think the story of Gyo was just more suited to be told in manga form. Bright colors clearly doesn’t retain the same ominous atmosphere that a usual black and white manga panels are able to achieve.

Psychedelic, but not that disturbing after all

As you see, Gyo is plagued by all sorts of trouble, and some of them came from Junji Ito himself while others were added by ufotable. Ito’s prime concern is to create unsettling imagery and what becomes of it and how it can be incorporated into a story (that should have an ending) seems to be of no bigger concern to him. It’s as likely as not that the longer stories of his will feel cohesive and finished and that is the main problem with his manga. Ufotable changed quite a lot in its anime adaptation and few of these changes were for good, or at least necessary and logical to begin with. From a historical perspective it was quite fun to see how a transition from the old ufotable to the new glossy aesthetic plagued by post-production gradients looked at some point. But yeah, Gyo makes little sense and even somehow you became interested in this cheap horror flick, go read the manga, especially the short stories.

     Have you ever encountered Gyo at some point? What do you think about Junji Ito’s storytelling and current aesthetic of ufotable?

Scattered Thoughts – tasting Tales of Berseria

     I’m not an avid gamer, and it’s even rarer for me to completely finish a game. Usually I just either get bored with the gameplay or get stuck (and then get bored). That looks completely different from my completionist-like stance towards anime, but I guess I just hope to finish any game I started some time in the future. Considering gaming that have ties with anime my portfolio is even scarcer – apart from some visual novels (still waiting to complete Fate route of Fate/Stay Night and finish several remaining routes of Tsukihime) I don’t think I’ve ever finished anything else, and my only knowledge about Tales series stems from the Zestiria anime, so for me Tales of Berseria is a big deal, so prepare for a lengthy post.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Theme of Velvet' by Motoi Sakuraba

     The story begins in not the most unique way possible – you, and that also means the protagonist Velvet, get your share of peaceful jogging around before being abruptly taken from this pleasant life to another, full of dark emotions and almost no hope. Velvet’s younger brother (as adorable as it gets) ends up being killed and that changes Velvet to the point of her only goal becoming revenge, no matter the means, no matter the collateral damage. As usual with such games, later on Velvet’s quest turns out to be a part of a far bigger problem that is the mandatory saving of the world.

Not that impressive dungeon

     The world provides plenty of beautiful locations – from cities to harbors and grassy plains, from icy landscapes to tropical beaches and volcanoes, though sometimes visual repetition isn’t avoided. Another great aspect of the game is that the story sometimes leads back to some already explored locations that changed from your previous visit – it makes the world more alive. Also a nice idea is that the NPCs over the world discuss the news (that usually are about Velvet’s travels). The facts they usually get wrong but that also enhances the realistic nature of such talks. You feel that it’s important what you have accomplished and you affect the world more than just going to a random dungeon and finding some stuff here that nobody cares about. Despite quite strong world building, when you get down to some caves, dungeons and old temples, the boredom slowly starts to seep in. These confined monster areas feel very much the same, closed by plain walls, one chamber not different by any means from another. There’s another problem with that. The monster areas feel a little too long – each time you start, eager to learn what kind of creatures roam around, but sooner rather than later you just end up mashing the same buttons for the best attack combination.  Later on you acquire more abilities but, as most of early stuff still works reasonably well, I ended up not using much of that.

Button mashing time!

When you have the battle system figured out and the combat has lost its novelty, it becomes a serious chore and the only remedy for that is avoiding the monsters. Speaking about an occasional lack of uniqueness, there is only a very limited number of NPC models and it actually took me a while to come into terms that all these people don’t really travel from one location to another with you but are just a way to cut the costs.  At least if you’re bored, there’s always some mini games here and there so you need only choose between card playing, doing the most damage or improving your reaction time among other things, but it’s only a temporary solution as you inevitably need to return to the main story.

What a bunch of weirdos!

     Staying true to the genre, soon a group of adventurers forms around Velvet, each with his own objectives and problems, but temporary goals still prove to be strong enough to more or less unify them. At this era of the world, most of the seraphim (basically spiritual beings) are bereft of free will, being used only as tools. A little seraph whom Velvet saves from such a fate soon becomes very important to her but Velvet struggles to distinguish him from her dead brother, to the point of also naming him Laphicet, her brother’s name. At first Laphicet was just a doll without any semblance of a character, but his development into someone who can speak his mind and make wise decisions was probably the biggest among all the characters. Laphicet’s emotional change is also helped a lot by another member of the group, Eleanor. The apparent unannounced fight between her and Velvet for the affections of Laphicet doesn’t take much time to get established and that ended up being quite fun. Anyway, Eleanor also has her own goal – being an exorcist and initially opposing Velvet’s movements, she started to question the decisions of her superiors and dig up all the truth about their works. That inevitably led her to become a part of this anti-governmental band of weirdos. Eleanor also has a subplot of recovering from her traumatic family circumstances by herself developing some motherly traits.

A cutscene of a 3D fight in the game...

The two male members of the group doesn’t have much going on – with Eizen constantly looking for his vanished pirate captain (and thinking about his mysterious sister but that sadly didn’t get much time) and Rokurou trying to find and kill his brother. Still, the biggest impression was left by the final member – a witch Magilou. At first she seemed to be one of those immensely full of herself and very annoying characters but eventually I ended up liking her a lot. A character who doesn’t take anything seriously, is able to exploit every situation for her own benefits and is absolutely unpredictable automatically is very charming. Magilou also has a more serious side beneath her wacky exterior and it’s even more fascinating to see it shine from time to time. Every important character (and location) has his own musical theme that well suits his characteristics. There are some interesting parallels between the characters and sometimes it allows for them to reconsider their options, to better understand themselves or just to see how different philosophies might lead to different outcomes from the same starting point. There’s also a negative side to that – too much of even some good stuff may go sour and I don’t even care to count how many different tragic mother-daughter relationship permutations Berseria used.

...and the same fight in the Tales of Zestiria the X anime, only in 2D

     As you see, the group of the adventurers is particularly varied and character designs convey that. Each character has his color code and alone looks at least ok. The problem is when everyone gathers together – the colors clash. It seems like no one bothered to give any thought about visual character chemistry. Cowboy Bebop for example did wonderfully choosing character color scheme that looks good when characters are alone as well as together and with Berseria sadly that’s not the case. There are other things like Velvet’s gear. It’s no doubt that it looks cool but practicality of it is questionable. A fantasy game may get away with a retractable blade on a wrist but even if at first Velvet only thought about revenge I doubt that she would never think of changing her attire into something more appropriate if not more practical compared to her default outfit. Who needs so many extra belts anyway? Continuing about character designs, naturally they change quite a bit between 3D gameplay and 2D skits and the effect is ambiguous. Well, the mere fact that some of the cutscenes are 2D and others 3D feels quite weird. Velvet looks far better in 3D without that so-pointy-you-can-prick-yourself nose. On the other hand 3D Laphicet looks anything but adorable with his too huge eyes that show very little personality which is present in 2D images.

Velvet, rags and belts included. Also a discount on a demon arm.

     Let’s get a bit deeper. Now what I’ll say may sound like a blasphemy to hardcore Tales fans, especially since (for all I know) it might be one of the trademarks of the series, but here it is – the world is not consistent considering its seriousness and believability. One moment you might encounter a very emotional scene with Velvet struggling with her humanity and a few moments later end up collecting lost souls for some crossbreeds between cats and teletubbies. The game lets the player acquire and use various cosmetic outfits, varying form maid or school uniforms to beach clothes, pirate eyepatches and other random stuff. Personally I can’t imagine myself playing a game where a person with cat ears argues about serious battle tactics with a person with a dog’s tale, while a third person with a bikini (leaning against an iceberg) casually observes everything. Of course there’s no need to take advantage of this possibility so that’s not a big deal. Nonetheless, even without believability-bending cosmetic outfits constant encounters with Katz people (and the like) and especially the enormous silliness of Magilou’s companion normin Bienfu in my mind clash very hard with the mere idea of being in a story of saving the world. I understand that some comedy is needed and for the most part it works fine (not to mention that marketing loves mascot characters), but I think that such a foul-mouthed, annoying and just plain ridiculous (not even considering his hat) character like Bienfu adds little to the game. If the game is marketed as a very serious one, exploring deep matters and dark themes, I expect it to retain all these aspects more or less for the whole game, not only at certain times. Well, Velvet herself sometimes seemed to get carried pretty far away from her initial resolve to dedicate all her energy to the revenge. That may emphasize her human side but how much her resolve is worth then? Also laughable seems the scene where Velvet refuses to drink because she isn’t the legal age yet. I appreciate the message but I doubt anything else should feel as out of place as this from the lips of a person who apparently doesn’t give a damn about anything else except her sole objective.

Some drama in a nice field of flowers

     There are also some other dislikeable things. There’s a tiny treason subplot and in terms of the story it should be something big and important but it get brushed under the rug never to appear again. The guilty character doesn’t even get any inconvenience because of that as others just shrug off everything as it is a completely natural thing and nobody needs to worry about that. Another thing concerns the villains. It’s believable that the main one thinks he’s a good guy and it’s possible that to some extent what he’s doing is for the greater good. Nevertheless, his lackeys lack any complexity. Thus all the hard work spent staging Velvet as an antihero feels a bit pointless. I think it would’ve been far more interesting to have Velvet’s opponents better explored or just to make them at least somewhat likable or their actions justifiable. Velvet’s original revenge goal already is sinister enough and going on only because of selfish reasons until the end would’ve created far more complicated conflict. Velvet already struggled to acknowledge that what she has been doing isn’t really justifiable but that was undermined by making her opponents too evil and step by step reshaping Velvet into the herald of good people.

Need some comedy?

     I can’t say the ending was applaudable. At first the lead up to the final battle was rather unsatisfying. It’s natural that games try to hype you up quite a lot before the ultimate fight, but Berseria stumbles a bit in that department. When a character says “let’s prepare for the final showdown” and you do, but then follows a monster area, twice or thrice longer than usual ones (in no area the repetitiveness was so irritating than in this one), and apart from that many map areas that interconnect in various ways made it particularly easy to get lost there. The final fight itself proved to be deliciously challenging, and using some potions became a necessity, and that never had occurred before due to my normal difficulty setting. When the fight ended, there inevitably was an animated wrap-up. I guess its biggest problem was that overall it felt more like a “now go play Zestiria” kind of ending. On the other hand, pretty much the same thing happened to Zestiria’s ending itself – everything was just cut off, and in a completely unforeseeable way. When you get invested in an intricate story, one of the most fun aspects is trying to guess how the characters will achieve their goals (because they always do). All the fun evaporates when the story doesn’t find some clever path that has been hinted through the journey but ends in a Deus ex Machina way because of magic (or some alternative of that, the essence is still the same). You then just think “Oh well, I guess it’s also possible to do that” and go on with your daily stuff. The fate of Velvet was just like that. I don’t know if anything of her ultimate end was said in Zestiria and it would be even more frustrating if the answer is negative. Most of the other characters just went on with their lives almost as if nothing had happened. I can’t really say that apart from Laphicet any of them accomplished much in the first place. A fan of the Tales universe will probably find many lovable points that interconnect both Zestiria and Berseria, and recurring characters are one such thing. Despite the fact that such a connection gives more historical depth for the story, that comes with a price of having less options to wrap Berseria up, and that in my mind turned out to be not the least problem of the game. Maybe making Berseria a stand-alone game would’ve worked better?

Excerpt from the OST: 'Magilou, the great sorceress' by Motoi Sakuraba

     Overall I think I’ll remember Tales of Berseria quite fondly. Thanks, Tales of Zestria the X, for directing my attention to  this game, even if you as a story failed quite a bit yourself. The overarching question of Berseria – whether interests of a single person or society are more important – gives some food for thought and in the end the game provides a definitive answer to that – individuality must always be considered no matter what. Because it’s rather the journey and not the conclusion that counts, the story was engaging enough. Game mechanics may not have been the thing in the world, but as I stayed for the journey and the world, I think my time spent was worth it.I still don’t have the slightest idea what does the name Berseria itself mean (unless it’s a confirmation that Berserk manga will have an ending).

     Some time ago Lethargic Ramblings posted some thoughts on the whole Tales franchise and that, apart from assuring me to write about Berseria, also was entertaining in its own right, so check it out if you haven’t yet.

     Have you played Tales of Berseria? What do you think about it and other games of the franchise?

Scattered Thoughts – what do you get by mixing Urasawa and Tezuka?

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Pluto vol. 2 and Astro Boy vol. 3, both covers feature Astro Boy

     Let’s think for a bit about various remakes, reboots and reimaginings concerning our community. Probably what first comes to mind is the constant stream of news that one anime or another is getting a live action adaptation. And we all know what the general opinion about such stuff usually is – “Oh god why? Not another one!”. Technically, these cases aren’t really remakes, as it involves changing the original medium. Anyway, it’s not unheard of for an anime to get a true remake, as usually it either takes advantage of new technical capabilities (NGE) or, more importantly, also changes the story because the original anime wasn’t very satisfactory (for example FMA or Fate/Stay Night to some extent). Sometimes remakes as well as unending sequels are also used to rekindle interest in long-running franchises such as Sailor Moon. But have you ever come across such a phenomenon in the manga world? Naturally, it’s not common since drawings don’t age as fast but that doesn’t mean that such things don’t exist.

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Osamu Tezuka among his works and a post stamp showing him with Astro Boy

     Let’s move on to the mandatory appreciation sentence about Osamu Tezuka – there probably hasn’t been a more influential person in anime and manga history and there will never be. The details of the history of manga and anime are an interesting topic by itself but it concerns today’s theme only a little. Many of you probably already know that Tezuka was heavily influenced by Disney animation and American comics of the same time period. Tezuka started imitating characters and stories available for him in pre-war Japan, little by little moving on to find his own voice. For a long time his character designs and characters themselves remained very Disney-like, just the right stuff for uncomplicated stories that usually fall into contemporary family friendly slice-of life comedy genre. As Disney and generally all of the Western animation up until now has concentrated on providing entertainment for younger audiences, Tezuka in his time managed to move on. His manga gained more depth (both visually and story-wise), more complex themes such as psychology of human mind and social problems started to appear. Tezuka’s medical education also became an influence to his manga and it wouldn’t be too bold to say that medical schools became more crowded because of his art. Tezuka deserves all the credit for influencing the general look of modern anime, more cost-effective outlook on the animation production compared to the Western animation and most definitely types of stories that both manga and anime tend to tell.

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No way this could be a bad guy

     It’s probably impossible not to have heard anything about Astro Boy or as it was called originally Tetsuwan Atom, meaning Mighty Atom. Tezuka’s famous manga series about a little robot dealing with various usually robot-related problems in a superhero way have received many adaptations, first being live-action tokusatsu series in 1959. The first anime series in 1963 despite featuring some really limited animation also deserves a mention since it was directed by Tezuka himself. Astro Boy franchise proved to be particularly alive and influential, promoting Tezuka’s visual style and forming both anime and manga mediums for years to come. Yet, I don’t consider myself a huge Tezuka fan. The only Astro Boy related material I’ve consumed (that is specifically for this post) is The Greatest Robot on Earth arc from the manga. This arc seems to be among the most liked, and not without a reason. Generally the arc (as I guess more or less the rest of the manga) never really gets out of its simplified storytelling with inconsequential conflicts and not the most believable character actions and motivations. It’s crucial not to expect many deviations from a tone and style that would appeal to children. Most of characters appear to be one-dimensional – for example the evil ruler behaves the way he does because he’s just evil. Some of the choices of the story are questionable if anyone wants it to be realistic – characters fight, then reconcile, then fight again while maintaining a semi-friendly relationship, help one another or just decide to postpone a fight for silly reasons such as not being allowed to fight because someone just said so.  Fighting seems to be the main factor that decides if someone is better than someone else. Even if sometimes some other characteristics are said to be important, ultimately it’s fighting that answers all the questions. The overall mindset of the manga can be clearly illustrated by an example when the bad guy saved Astro Boy and then Uran, Astor Boy’s sister, gave the bad guy some stickers as a reward. Oh dear. The artstyle further emphasizes not the most serious nature of the manga – the cartoonish origins of Tezuka’s style are clear. Both characters and backgrounds appear to be very flat, techniques that are more known to be used for American comics such as squash and stretch are used in many occasions. That works for little comedic moments but also undermines the stakes of the story. For me it felt quite weird – as if I was reading comics knowing that it was actually a manga.

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Just two robots enjoying an afternoon

     Nonetheless, Astro Boy also gives some food for thought, mainly through the main antagonist robot Pluto who is told to destroy all of the most powerful robots, Astro Boy included. Pluto constantly emphasizes that he doesn’t want to fight Astro Boy and does that only because he was programmed so. That creates sort of an inner conflict and ultimately makes Pluto not as much as a villain but more of a tragic character who isn’t fortunate enough to be able to behave the way he would like to. Even so, Tezuka’s shounen world is able to give chances to Pluto to overcome his programming sometimes when it’s convenient to the plot. Ultimately, the story has some interesting aspects but I don’t think you miss anything skipping this arc unless you’re interested in the history of manga.

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A nice background with a part of Naoki Urasawa

     At this point Naoki Urasawa comes into the picture. One of the most prolific mangaka of our times, author of such masterpieces as Monster. I don’t think much is needed to be said about him because his works speak for themselves, being far more accessible than some part of Tezuka’s dated legacy. Having admired Astro Boy since his childhood and possibly naming his protagonist in Monster after a character in Astro Boy, Urasawa opted to rework the The Greatest Robot on Earth arc into something completely different. If you more or less know anything about Urasawa’s style, you should be at least mildly interested – Urasawa’s realism and deep interest into the psychology of the characters at first glance shouldn’t mix well with full of conveniences and very childish Tezuka’s creation.

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An improvement in art of Gesicht, though the handshake remains the same

     It turns out that Urasawa’s end product named Pluto has very little in common with its predecessor apart from the some general plot points and various not necessarily Astro Boy related Tezuka references. To some extent recreating the story and giving soul to the characters wasn’t the most difficult task because Tezuka’s pace was just insane. The original arc’s length doesn’t comprise a full volume while Pluto tells the same story through 8 volumes.  The change of pace can be illustrated by the fact that the first powerful robot to be destroyed – Mont Blanc – in Tezuka’s version appears in only 2 pages but instead of that Urasawa elaborates how Mont Blanc’s destruction affected everyone else in the world – lots of tears, funeral and stuff. That’s a very characteristic feature that makes both versions different. Tezuka just can’t stay in one place for a longer period of time wishing just to continue the story so that the readers won’t get even a slightest chance to be bored. On the other hand Urasawa spends a sufficient time to portray every character as realistically as possible, building relationships and pondering how each of the events concerning really powerful and known robots would affect everyone in the world. To make things more interesting, Urasawa also shifts the main character role to a robot detective Gesicht who received barely any time in Tezuka’s version. Another difference is that Urasawa’s version of the story has far more mystery elements. Tezuka showed the main antagonist from the get go, while Urasawa delayed its complete appearance four fifths of the total length of the story. Needless to say the effect is stunning.

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War isn't pretty

     One huge addition in Pluto is the idea of a past but still quite recent conflict that affected pretty much everyone in the story and shaped their motivations. It’s not hard to guess that United States of Thracia declaring a war to Kingdom of Persia because the latter allegedly constructed robots of mass destruction is connected to the Iraq War. Regardless of what you think of it, Urasawa makes himself clear considering his stance toward the conflict – war can accomplish absolutely nothing. Such moments like when one of the most efficient killing machines wants to learn to play a piano just scream about the meaninglessness of war. The said background then is used to make the characters more connected to the world they’re in. In Pluto every of the most powerful robots gets his own story, sometimes made of vague hints of Tezuka’s version. For example Epsilon at first was just a cautious Australian robot who for some reason cared about some kids. Urasawa expands Epsilon into a person who declined to participate in the Persian war and rather became a caretaker of some of the orphaned kids from the same conflict. This Epsilon is naturally being looked down on for that but just as is with humans, rejecting a fight doesn’t necessarily make you an irredeemable coward. Other robots also receive various motivations such as behaving because of the love of one’s country, developing a healthy rivalry, or just wishing to live the most fulfilling life possible.

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Urasawa's art at its best

     The original Astro Boy had ideas about robot rights and how life would be when there’re robots everywhere. As with everything else, Urasawa expands the idea. The end result is a really interesting world where robots are still bound by strict rules not to lie and not to kill humans but on the other hand they are conscious. Robots try to mimic lifestyle of humans, forming families, adopting robot-kids, in other words just pretending to be what they aren’t. It’s fascinating that the act of crying for a robot might ease a little a great pain, even if the robot has no idea why and how. The portrayed state of society is also thought provoking because robot rights and stuff are still a fairly new concept, evoking even secret anti-robot movements, clearly bearing significance to racial discrimination. One of the most tranquil moments in the early chapters came when Gesicht came to announce the death of a police robot to his wife and experienced her subtle response to that. A little later this scene was heavily contrasted to another one when the same killed robot after some scientific examination was just scrapped into trash with other ordinary junk. Some robots might even feel complicated emotions and be just barely distinguishable from humans but it’s a no brainer for the government to play with robot memories if it suits the needs. Also, if ordered, a robot must kill his fellow robots no matter his own thoughts. All the rules concerning robots and general understanding are just not yet developed enough to make them truly equal to humans, and such a theme is always intriguing to explore.

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Epsilon turns out to be reincarnated Johan from Monster, but only visually

     As well as the story, the art of Pluto is very much Urasawa-like. Perhaps sometimes even a bit too much Urasawa-like. Gesicht’s personality and appearance to some extent resemble inspector Lunge from Monster, but Epsilon is just a twin to Johan (not to mention that both of them are good with kids). Technically that means Nina Fortner, and that’s also pretty much true. Other than that, it’s a usual wide range of facial features that Urasawa excels at. While Tezuka’s character designs are very simplified in order to suit the cartoonish style and various squashing and stretching attempts, the same can’t be said about Pluto’s cast. For example it’s clear from the first panel that there’s something ominous and sad about dr. Tenma even if you don’t know anything about his own story (that actually is quite sad. Check out the origins of Astro Boy if you will). Having more realistic versions of the characters let the reader connect more with the story via many subtle facial expressions that weren’t possible to portray through the cartoonish Tezuka’s designs. To overcome the nature of Astro Boy’s essence, sometimes inventiveness needs to be employed. In Pluto all the powerful robots look precisely like humans, even Astro Boy himself possesses a body of a normal boy. But while in Tezuka’s version two of the most powerful robots were especially inhuman and machine-like, Urasawa decides to make these shapes into mechas wherein actual human-like robots may sit. The locations in Pluto also received more focus – you can easily tell that characters live in an organic world where some technology is present but it doesn’t overshadow the story itself while Tezuka’s world didn’t seem to be that different from our own.

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The two masters

     Probably the only thing that I wasn’t particularly happy about Pluto was the ending that felt too brisk. The story had been woven for a long time with much interest being waken about some certain characters and it feels slightly disappointing when you find out that not all backstories and motives will be told. Yes, it’s a great way for each reader to find his own answers but some clarity and as detailed elaboration as other characters had received would have been welcome.

     Well, the most important difference between the two manga seems to be that Astro Boy was created to suit needs of children – to fascinate them with unusual stories, to let their imaginations run wild with all the possibilities that the future may hold, to show a clear sense of justice when the good guys win and the bad guys are not made fun of but rather being reprimanded, getting embarrassed over their deeds and, if possible, turning to the good side. On the other hand, Urasawa is one of these kids who were touched by Tezuka’s stories and that enabled him to make a new rendition of the same story, only transformed to suit the needs of a more mature person. The mere built-in ability of the story to be transformed speaks much about the deep ideas that Tezuka has hidden in his manga, but it took another master to entangle them and make them presentable mixed with some other expanded statements.

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You don't want to make a robot policeman this mad

     If it wasn’t clear enough up to this point, I’d highly recommend reading Pluto. It’s a sad story about some part of sentient people being discriminated, having a clear anti-war message and delving into the human psychology that’s made even more interested because of the fact that the majority of the analyzed characters are robots. Moreover, the story was already created way before Urasawa even got the idea to start Pluto and that let many details to be put into the beginning of the story that aren’t that comprehensible from the very start and become clear only gradually. It also means that the manga has a high rereadability value, and it’s definitely worth it. Pluto is a very interesting story, combining wonders of a more advanced version our world with deep human drama. The idea to push Astro Boy himself into a supporting role in order to give the spotlight to a more tragic and mature character worked wonders to the story. I think you could enjoy Pluto better without any prior knowledge about the Astro Boy franchise but that doesn’t mean that even a die-hard fan wouldn’t find any unforeseen twists.

     As I’ve already said, Astro Boy is incredibly famous, which might be illustrated by, say, current airing Atom: The Beginning anime. Nonetheless, just recently Pluto has also been noticed – M2, the new studio of legendary Masao Maruyama is going to adapt the manga into an anime series. Don’t miss it!

     Have you read Astro Boy and/or Pluto? What are your thoughts about Tezuka’s and Urasawa’s styles in general? Don’t be shy and please do share your experiences!

Scattered Thoughts – laughing at Kite Liberator

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     Western audiences seem to enjoy an OVA from 1998 called Kite. Technically, it’s a hentai, but there exists a shorter version (approximately 45 min long compared to 60 min) that has all that risky stuff cut out. The shorter version somehow ended up being on Crunchyroll, and there’s where I watched it, so don’t expect me to talk anything about hentai stuff. Just for the record, as far as I know from little research, plotwise (not “plot”-wise) the shorter version is as good, and might even be better without mostly unnecessary 15 additional minutes. Well, it depends on your view towards hentai, but that’s not the aspect I want to discuss now.

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     It’s plain to see why Kite managed to earn some fan-following. There’s a certain charm that 80s and 90s OVAs have – that of dark settings, lots of violence, and, in this case, girls with guns. The animation itself with its roughness gives a nostalgic feeling, something distinct form that lighter computer-enhanced art nowadays. And Kite in all these respects feels very much a child of its time, especially knowing that certainly not all old OVAs were good. The idea of having an assassin girl stuck with some pretty bad people might have been developed into something meaningful, but Kite rather spends time for the content that got deleted in the shorter version. Certainly the OVA doesn’t just state the fact “the protagonist Sawa is a killer” and illustrate it with buckets of blood – there’s some stuff to make you think, but in the very end I don’t find it that satisfactory. Why a girl that can shred her opponents to pieces would do nothing and keep getting used in all sorts of ways for some years only to rebel at a random moment? It might have been an interesting character study, but Kite doesn’t bother to offer the slightest idea what really happens in Sawa’s head.

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And then, 10 years later, there comes a sequel of sorts. Kite Liberator is another OVA, also about an hour-long, but its essence is completely different from its predecessor. Well, I might end up only reciting all the weird plot elements, but as there’s little to talk about characters or themes and I don’t recommend watching it in the first place, I guess it’ll be fine. The director Yasuomi Umetsu probably wanted to make the sequel more diverse to capture more audiences, and in the true 80s and 90s fashion he chose to add some space adventures as well as some cute girls because that’s what people like now. You won’t be the first to question whether space and assassin girls really complement each other that well, but apparently at the time nobody objected.

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     Going on a little tangent, the animation actually might be the best part of the OVA. Some CG space stuff was so incredibly animated that it can easily best many anime projects that use CG even now, almost 10 years later. Even a Hollywood production might get away using something of this caliber. 2D stuff also most of times worked well, action scenes were done at least competently, though for instance two guys shooting at each other dozens of bullets while being completely unshielded and not even grazing one another is a bit annoying. The character designs are clearly aimed at being as moe as possible and it was also more or less a success. On the other hand, there are some definitely weird cuts that feel like they came from a completely different decade compared to the incredible CG.

Excerpt from Kite Liberator; animation by Keita Matsumoto

     But most of times it’s not the animation that the sequel fails at. As a successor to Kite, the later OVA also features a killer girl, and one that looks somewhat similar to Sawa of the original. Sadly, Monaka of Kite Liberator doesn’t have even the implied depth of Sawa. Can an assassin that appears at the right second to save someone from getting killed be taken seriously knowing that other times she dons her dojikko personality and trips and stumbles and falls down a lot while playing a good student as well as a part-time employee at a maid café? Does killing people during spare time and getting embarrassed over being asked on a date by a policeman twice as old seem normal? There’s a scar shown on Monaka’s back while she changes (the only scene to feature the tiniest bit of nakedness), but that as well as the key question of why did Monaka became a killer in the first place never gets any explanation or even a slightest mention at all.

Excerpt from Kite Liberator

     All the maid stuff and playing clumsy has some charm, and some credit definitely should be given for that because in its own right the cuteness and some light comedy aren’t the worst. But does it mix with assassin stuff well? Definitely not, as neither the space stuff does. In its own right it feels a bit ridiculous, but that’s only the top of an iceberg. It’s known that zero gravity and just the general conditions in a space station affect human physiology, causing some bone and muscle atrophies among other things. So that’s no surprise that some special food forms are being developed to counter that. And then there’s the best part – some specially enhanced curry, paired with the effects of solar radiation have a pretty bad effect – some crew members transform into giant bony killing machines! It just happens that one of them is in fact Monaka’s father! And, of course, he ends up travelling back on Earth only to meet his daughter who has been instructed to kill that weird monster! She succeeds in the end, but wait, no, the dad regenerates, and… that’s the end. Oh boy…

Excerpt from Kite Liberator; animation by Nozomu Abe

     I don’t even have the words to explain how weird, nonsensical and laughable this mess of Kite Liberator really is. The ideas on their own can work, as the original Kite has more or less shown, but one can only guess what food poisoning made the creators make such a mishmash of a plot, mixing every possible idea that can be “cool”. Kite Liberator  for me doesn’t make the slightest sense no matter how I think about it. Also, why name such a project a sequel to the original Kite in the first place? The only thing that connects them is a gun both Sawa and Monaka use. It can be argued that a coworker of Monaka might actually be Sawa, and one policeman also might be a certain reappearing guy but that’s just a random theory from someone who believes that a project and its sequel should have some common points even if they have absolutely no effect on the story.

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     Kite Liberator is one of its kind, and thank goodness that it’s only one. I don’t deem its predecessor particularly good but this OVA is just ridiculous. Watch it only if you aren’t afraid to lose an hour of your life in exchange of the possibility to get some laughs at how incompetent a story can be.

Scattered Thoughts – Nijigahara Holograph, Haruki Murakami, and the appeal of Inio Asano (3/3)

     This is the final part of the write-up and it concerns primarily Nijigahara Holograph. The first part about realism in Inio Asano’s works is here and the second about Asano’s dark world might be found here.

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     After all these thoughts Nijigahara Holograph, a manga of only one volume, seems as Asano-ish as possible, but also having its own charm. The manga doesn’t have as much optimism as Solanin, and in that respect it’s more like a similar iteration of Oyasumi Punpun’s world. The limited length doesn’t allow to delve deep into the characters’ inner worlds, but it isn’t that needed since Asano manages to get the message across by using old as ages method of “show, don’t tell”. For example, bruises on an arm of a child in just one panel reflect the relationship with his parents, and as in that case it’s the parents that are the center of that sub-story, the conclusions about them can be made very quickly without any elaboration that needs lots of words. It’s probably for the best since then the readers can come to their own conclusions without being swayed by the subjective thought trains of the characters themselves.

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     The reader must be prepared to think also because Nijigahara Holograph is somewhat further from other Asano stories since it contains some unnatural phenomenon – time loops, to some extent repeating events and the mystic atmosphere to create an unsettling mood. Characters live their lives as all normal people do, but you feel that everything is a bit more complicated. As everyday routine in all Asano’s stories is portrayed to be suffocating, Nijigahara Holograph goes further – many entangled lives are meshed into an endless repeating cycle of suffering. Some characters are slightly aware of it, and it’s only more painful. The mysticism is also expressed  visually, as many panels are invaded by butterflies that look like something straight from Junji Ito’s works – being something unknown, incomprehensible, awe-inspiring.

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     Broken characters are inevitably here. What made them that way? Well, just one wrong decision, one wrong step can lead to haunting memories for a long time. It may be thought of as karma at its cruelest – if one gives in to his desires, there will always be a dark shadow hanging over. Even the most normal looking person inside may prove to be not that harmless as there’s a monster in every character of the manga, only some are hidden better than others, but one way or another in the end they come out. It all comes out as an idea that you can’t escape your past – it follows you whenever you go, influencing your future decisions. Another neat idea Asano uses here as well as in Subarashii Sekai is that there are countless unexpected connections between the characters. Take for example a girl working in a cafe owned by the brother of her former classmate. Then one day the cafe is visited by the girl’s former teacher, who also has connections with the owner. The characters themselves might not be fully aware of their intertwining fates, but the connections exist, and in this way past events may have even bigger influence over the future. Also it’s interesting that some events may repeat themselves – not exactly, but enough to be recognized because of some specific prop, character circumstances and so on.

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     I know that everything I said is very vague, but just have faith that if you want to experience Asano’s stories but don’t have much time, Nijigahara Holograph may as well be a good start. This manga encompasses many of recurring themes and ideas, also having its own identity and overall working as a good example of what Asano is capable of. It’s rather easy to just skim through the pages getting only a sensation of something half-baked and weird, but I think on a closer inspection there’s lots of interesting stuff to ponder about.

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     I wish there was even wider knowledge and appreciation of Asano’s works. of course there was that Solanin live action film, but probably it would be naïve to expect an anime adaptation of pretty much anything Asano has written. Well, to think positively, there is a precedent of Aku no Hana getting an anime, and that’s encouraging, since Shuzo Oshimi is another mangaka whose exceptionally beautiful art is able to accompany mature and complicated stories. There is also one interesting connection between Haruki Murakami and anime – Yoshitoshi ABe was heavily influenced by Murakami’s imagery in his Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World when creating the world of Haibane Renmei. The Wall, the Clock Tower, the Library and other things appear in both works and evoke similar feelings, even if the circumstances are completely different. These facts are not much, but stories that invite thinking and reassessing your relationship with the world are slowly getting more appreciation and acceptance through different mediums. Well, you don’t even need to go far, last season’s Kuzu no Honkai provided some interesting food for thought. And what’s more interesting, there exists one photo of Kengo Hanazawa, the author of I am a Hero and a good friend of Asano in Asano’s office. And guess what manga lies on a table behind? No wonder since thematically Umibe no Onnanoko and Kuzu no Honkai have many common points.

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     So yeah, I guess you have grasped a bit of what kind of person Inio Asano is and what his stories are like. At this point it’s useful to remember Haruki Murakami for a second. Both of the creators wander along existential themes and their characters to some extent are very similar. Why does that appeal so much to me?  I guess because I (as probably everyone) have come to question my place in the world, what am I really supposed to do with my life and whether am I not wasting it and if yes then if it’s really wrong; is it ok to dream knowing that you can’t achieve something you wish for? If not, when is the right time to stop? Should I be content with everything I have or should I try more? And then what would be the point of achieving anything? The answers the readers find may be completely different, but that’s beside the point.

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     It’s interesting and a bit disheartening that Asano’s manga is, as he himself put, a blend of things that have meaning and things that have absolutely none. It’s like a gamble trying to guess what the author intended and what he didn’t. Either way even if intended to be meaningless (for Asano), some symbols still can be interpreted. Also, some at the first sight meaningless things might have some symbolism, but knowing Asano, sometimes you just have no chance to guess the right answer. Some ideas are deeply integrated into the narrative, others are there just because Asano wanted to do that for apparently no reason. It’s a bit of a mess, but I’d call it  one of Asano’s strengths – you can achieve many different interpretations, and some of them can be completely opposite to what the author intended, but they nonetheless can be seen as valid in their own right. There are many possible meanings, and you can chose what you like.  An author who makes his audience think about the meaning of the art is automatically a very good one. Every piece of art that encourages you to question anything is a step towards being a wiser person, being able to avoid some of the mistakes of the unlucky characters, and Asano can certainly provide that.

     Have you read any of Asano’s works? What do you think of them?