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

 photo 2_zpsudyjprkv.png

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.

 photo 0_zpsliwazurc.png

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.

 photo 5_zpsutbb5icw.jpg

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.

 photo 6_zpsfakkqsas.jpg

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.

 photo 7_zpsh1khgara.jpg

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.

 photo 3_zps4bcsevy1.png

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.

 photo 8_zpscsglqpcg.png

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.

 photo 9_zpstfecznpl.jpg

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.

 photo 1_zps7iommxs7.png

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.

 photo 4_zps3mtmzya0.png

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.

 photo 10_zps7swzflr1.jpg

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

 photo KiteLiberator_zps3nsjfato.png

     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.

 photo Kite3_zps6ibkk1b3.gif

     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.

 photo K_zpssi8jhsah.png
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.

 photo Kitey_zpsctzstvwj.png

     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.

 photo Kite 2_zpsqgqo0iep.png

     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.


 photo Ni1_zpsqnyobefa.jpg

     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.

 photo Ni2_zpsmrbf3cpu.jpg

     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.

 photo nijigahara_zps9ziuhm4n.png

     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.

 photo N_zpsrxyiwfcr.jpg

     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.

 photo Ni3_zpscv6tmlxm.jpg

     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.

 photo Asano_zpsqwdmbm57.png

     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.

 photo pun_zpsqzpvwafu.jpg

     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?

Scattered Thoughts – Nijigahara Holograph, Haruki Murakami, and the appeal of Inio Asano (2/3)

     The first part where I talk about the realism in Inio Asano’s works and from where does it originate may be found here. Now it’s time to think about how Asano transforms the world to suit his stories and finally to bring some thoughts about Nijigahara Holograph in the third part.


 photo nij2_zpsfe9df6wx.jpg

     It’s not hard to agree that generally manga industry tries to promote positive, inspiring and uplifting stories (pretty much typical shounen stuff), so inevitably there appears a niche for some deeper studies of darker characters that may come close to being antiheroes. Though the world in Asano’s manga is shining with realism, it also is created to be very dark, a place where no one would rather live. For example school life in Asano’s works definitely isn’t the pinnacle of human existence as many anime seem to propose. Children are often left to their own devices as adults have their own problems and that ensures survival of the fittest with bullying at its best. Asano portrays school experience as a journey to a wider and always expanding world, but it has little parental guidance or visible influence by the teachers – kids try things on their own, discover ways to deal with various problems on their own, and just try to survive an environment that’s certainly not the most sympathetic.

 photo Nij1_zps1pf83t0f.jpg

     It’s not only school – anytime and anywhere tragedies sometimes just happen, sometimes you invite them yourself, but nobody is safe. There’s no such thing like “oh no, my friend was eaten by zombies, but after two chapters I’m absolutely alright like nothing happened”. Unpleasant things ensure that the characters are affected to the core as it provides means to dig deeper into human nature. Characters may not show how their experiences influence their decisions, but at critical moments you see that even the most secretive emotion may find a way through all the barriers. Widely appreciated Oyasumi Punpun begins like a somehow weird but ultimately harmless tale of a little boy trying to find a place under the sun and his journey through years, but the influence of the unfriendly world increases as the time goes on and by the end you end up being almost terrified what became of that sweet little kid, and the saddest part is that many of his not the best decisions weren’t his fault. Also, the viewer is left to ponder whether at the start Punpun’s life was any different from that of a random statistically averaged person and if truly everything that occurred could happen to anyone – is it true that either you’re just lucky or you aren’t? The effect is enhanced by the fact that Punpun himself is made to look like a bird-like doodle – naturally his emotions are visualized in a limited way so the reader may imagine himself in Punpun’s boots a lot easier. Punpun isn’t a character meant to be clear cut and having a rigidly defined personality – you may construct your own Punpun from a doodle to an actual person like any other.

 photo Punpun_zpsoji8ffaz.png

     Punpun starts as a fairly normal person, but as the characters are just the products of their own universe, probably there was no right way for him from the start.  Asano’s rather pessimistic world just isn’t forgiving for any little mistake that may come to haunt you later, seemingly harmless choices may lead to sad outcomes. Then it’s no wonder that pretty much all of Asano’s characters are broken people in one way or another. Each of them comes into the society naïve and hopeful but then the life just bashes their hopes, dreams and entire worldviews and in return thrusts a question “What will you do now?” The answer obviously is “I don’t know” and at this point characters begin to differ by trying to answer the question properly to the best of their abilities.

 photo pegasus_zpsuplqxdx3.png

     As Asano’s world is unrelenting, it’s filled with various individuals some of whom may appear to have gone absolutely nuts. To some extent that’s again a confirmation how hard is to live there. Some characters use this kind of behavior only as a way of dealing with their problems but everyone has his own internal logic and what’s perfectly fine with them. On the surface that may seem abnormal but that’s how Asano’s characters are. To think metatextually, some of these weird moments provide a little bit of comedy relief that brings a tiny ray of humor in seeing how ridiculous the world actually is apart from all the gloomy stuff. The humor often comes from totally unexpected and at the first glance illogical actions of the characters, almost on the same level as in Nichijou. Anyway, ultimately Asano’s existential questions lead to the conclusion that virtually no one knows exactly how to live. Everything just happens and in a blink of an eye you can end up in a horrible mess that no one warned you about. The harsh environment has broken many, shattering dreams and wishes, but as lonely creatures as they are, Asano’s characters strive to form connections and somehow live on.

 photo Niji3_zpszxnydqyi.jpg

     Even a person without goals or aspirations still needs to live somehow. An idea being explored in practically all of Asano’s work is the necessity to choose your future. Probably the two most important decisions in human life are the choice of a partner and a choice of profession, and Asano’s characters struggle with both of them as there is no right way do one or another and everyone just has to find his own path which usually isn’t that filled with joy. It’s practically impossible to find a perfect partner, especially since at first we are prone to overestimate the good points of a person we want to like. Entangled in imperfect relationships, Asano’s characters sometimes try to go their separate ways only to begin a new cycle of imperfectness. Sometimes they try to work things out and stick together even if there seems to be no logic behind it. Speaking about relationships, Asano doesn’t shy from sexuality. He tries to portray it as a very casual thing, just like eating lunch or something similar and that makes his works exceptional among many stuff nowadays where there’s tons of teasing and fanservice, but everything ends with only that. Well, I myself am not a person who particularly looks for such scenes in manga and anime, but the idea of treating it as a normal thing once again brings the realism, or rather a world without thinking about sexuality as a stigma. A perfect example of that is another Asano manga – in Umibe no Onnanoko characters (that are just in the beginning of their independent lives) experiment, err, try again, and just continue living on as best they can.

 photo umi_zpstiblhas5.jpg

     The other big question isn’t any easier. No one during their school years wants to become an average person, that is to work long hours of a salary man or, even worse, to be able only to achieve a position of a part time shop assistant. Continuing education in a college in this regard is a no better solution since a person at that point usually still doesn’t have a slightest idea what he wants to do with his life. Or rather, what he could do with his life because as children the characters have many huge dreams but virtually all of them are shattered sooner or later. Despite of that, usually there are opportunities to break out of all these cycles of misfortune. Not every character is able to make the right step, but among all the unhappiness there are moments of joy and salvation, moments when someone just finds the right answer to one of the multitude of questions that the life continues to ask.


     Please continue reading the final part about Nijigahara Holograph here. The first part examining Asano’s realism may be found here.

Scattered Thoughts – Nijigahara Holograph, Haruki Murakami, and the appeal of Inio Asano (1/3)

     A week ago this blog celebrated its one year birthday. Well, celebrated might not be the best word since I think it’s a pretty arbitrary amount of time, but anyway I’m generally very pleased that this project keeps going. To be frank I didn’t expect to manage not to stop some time soon in the beginning, but finding people who read your stuff and, more importantly, people who themselves write some interesting things has been an amazing experience. Thank you everyone for encouraging me to continue, I hope this won’t be the last time I can write something like this. What is better in this case than some musings over my favorite mangaka among other things?

 photo Niji1_zpszrytn66v.jpg

     The post ended up being a lot longer than I thought so this is the first part (concerning realism in Asano’s manga), the second (about the darkness in the Asano’s world) is here, and third (finally about Nijigahara Holograph) is here.


     To start from pretty far, let’s talk for a bit about Haruki Murakami. Yes, he’s not some obscure animator or mangaka, he’s the guy who almost won Nobel Prize in Literature. I’m not particularly well-versed in his works, but they have definitely left an impression on me. As far as I know, there always has been an easily observable theme uniting many of Murakami’s stories. That is, his protagonists most of times may just be the same person, experiencing different lives in parallel universes, but ultimately his character remains more or less constant.  Murakami’s protagonist is usually going with the flow, being not especially happy about his place in the world, but in the end being rather content, or just not courageous enough to make effort and change. Reading the surreal stories (A Wild Sheep Chase for example – you can’t get more mystical than that) brings a melancholic feeling, not unrelated to the intellectual side of the protagonist and particularly his interest in music. There also appears some secret wish to experience a different world, to escape from the ordinary life, to be able to do something different and avoid being just a quite unsuccessful and lonely dude with some regrets, a person whose absence wouldn’t be mourned. Precisely this feeling and the ability to create stories to be as realistic as possible is the connection that arises between Murakami and the person I really want to talk about.

 photo Mur_zpsstvhnscc.png

     If you have ventured at least a little into the world of manga, the chance is pretty high that you have heard of Inio Asano. His best known work Oyasumi Punpun (or Goodnight Punpun as it’s named by the current release by Viz) stands in a very high 5th place on MAL – not that it’s a very meaningful fact, but still. Asano definitely has much to say and his stories inevitably invite discussions, though not every comment about them may be a positive one. Still, I deem Asano to be one of the top creators in the seinen demographic range, being an expert in not shying away from topics and ideas that are usually marginalized or completely omitted from many mainstream manga. Yet, despite all the weird or sometimes even creepy elements Asano’s works are very deeply rooted in the reality and suspension of disbelief that is needed in any, say, “stuck in an RPG world” kind of anime here isn’t as needed. To think about it, pretty much every manga Asano has written could (in theory) be fairly easy adapted into a live action movie (Solanin already has been). Also, as the mangaka himself said, he’s trying to create stories that are not solely based on experiences of a single character, but rather an ensemble of several, and that makes sense – everyone is the main character of his own life and can be perceived as a temporary co-protagonist of some huge story going on. Another virtue is that Asano consciously doesn’t try to fit into a single genre – life doesn’t attempt that either. In the real life about anything could happen at any moment, from comedy to horror and beyond.

 photo Asa_zpscwxgdkye.png

     All these things sound good in theory but it would arguably have far less impact on the reader if everything had been only made up. There are some interviews on the Internet where you can get to know Asano better than just an empty name on the title page. It’s fascinating to get some glimpses of his own life and mindset in order to get a better understanding of his manga. The fact is that Asano (as probably any other creator) pulls inspirations from his own experiences, and that makes his manga feel more genuine, if not more personal. Take for example such little and pretty unconventional detail like a character (a boy, just for the record) having a complex because his chest is a little caved in and because of that he shies from the pool activities at school. It feels a little weird, but you can’t deny a specific flavor that grounded real life experiences like this one brings to a fictional story. Murakami-ish feeling of nihilism and existentialism that’s so inherent to Asano’s stories to some extent may be traced from the mangaka’s perspective on life. Asano clearly isn’t the most untroubled person in the world, and not only because of the difficult dilemma how to find balance between drawing what he really wants and what actually sells. Sometimes drawing manga for him is a way to experience some kind of an auto-psychological help. It’s probably impossible to tell which experiences and story elements had been real and what is only thought up, but the base is clearly heart-felt and it shows.

 photo Solanin_zpsyxhyg1lv.jpg

     Another case of Asano’s life seeping in his works might be well illustrated by Solanin – a manga about young adults who try to counter their bland lives by playing in a band. Asano himself isn’t any stranger to music, during his time at a university having played in a band. Sometimes he still returns to music for his own personal indulgence. In Solanin you can feel a mindset of a person who wants to continue doing what he enjoys, but also understanding that to be able to earn a living from that is not that realistic since you have to be particularly talented and lucky to be able to climb up in the entertainment business. Not everyone is meant to become a professional musician and this notion stands heavy above everyone. At this point I can do nothing but introduce some thoughts about Asian Kung-Fu Generation, a band (that I adore very much) that probably reminds the majority of people only of Naruto openings. Yet, it’s not unrelated to Asano. I’ve mentioned that Solanin has been adapted to a live action film and the ending song (lyrics by Asano himself) that is the climax of the story was created by AKG, whose garage-rock existence began just as any other music club experiment. AKG is the dream that Asano’s characters want to achieve and because of that AKG’s music for me feels very compatible with Asano’s stories. It’ s nothing strange after all, as both the mangaka and the band are the faces of the same generation with pretty much the same worries, same influences and same worldview.

 photo ajikan_zpsg4odbxis.png

     Visually anything Asano draws is an eye candy. The character designs might not be realistic per se, but they are definitely beautiful, and when you’re immersed in the story, the difference from the real faces is negligible. Every emotion is conveyed well so you can do nothing but admire every single page. The backgrounds also deserve a mention. According to the artist himself, “if you googled “Inio Asano” back when my first volume came out, you’d only get six results, and one of them described me as being “just awful at backgrounds”, which I really hated, so I started trying all sorts of different methods”. That included tracing the backgrounds from photos. That’s a lot of work, to the point of becoming a pain in the ass, but the results are just incredible. There are opinions that such extremely detailed backgrounds may distract from the real action or undermine the emotional value of some key panels, but I believe it just deserves lots of respect, making every panel a true work of art.

 photo aiko_zps8dbyxjjq.jpg

     It can be argued that every manga has these features – the author getting inspirations from his own life and trying to adapt his art to the stories he wants to tell. Yet in Asano’s case I think these features are pushed far beyond average – sometimes it looks like you are reading a diary of a person who chose to be represented by his characters. That feels exceptionally real, and the photorealistic artstyle enhances it many times. Still, as realistic as it is, Asano’s world doesn’t offer a rosy-colored life to the point of becoming a truly dark place. And more about that in the second part. The third part covers Nijigahara Holograph.

Scattered Thoughts – expanded universes of original anime shorts

     There have been many instances when a manga receives an OVA and only then (if everything goes well) is promoted to a full TV series, just like, say, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu or Mirai Nikki. To decide whether the source material is worthy of a longer adaptation in this case is rather easy since the story is already there. With original productions it’s a bit complicated because no one can really tell how everything will turn out to be and much more faith must be placed upon the creators. Nonetheless, some OVAs or shorts are lucky enough to become expanded. But then a question arises – is the new version able to deliver as well as the original did? Let’s take a look at some anime shorts (or OVAs) getting reworked into something bigger.

 photo DP1_zpsbtgksshq.png

     Death Billiards and its successor Death Parade might be the most well-known and widely appreciated case of the expansion of an OVA. As every year, in 2013 “Young Animator Training Project” funded 4 half an hour anime OVAs and as one of the participants, Madhouse gave the reins to Yuzuru Tachikawa, who before that had directed one episode of Steins;Gate, but later on contributed to various shows such as Kill la Kill, Shingeki no Kyojin, Zankyou no Terror, and, probably most importantly, was the director of Mob Psycho 100. The guy clearly has some talent, and it clearly shows in Death Billiards. The story follows a bartender and his assistant in a bar where people, usually paired, come after their deaths. Two of newcomers, still not knowing that they have already passed away, must play a game (this time, of course, billiards), which makes them remember their pasts and seriously compete against each other, because after the game both are judged by the bartender and directed to their appropriate afterlives. To see how people act when the stakes are incredibly high is always an interesting thing, and the OVA pushed the two participants to their extremes. The ending concerning the outcome of the game was left rather ambiguous, and that also remained an aspect of the TV anime that came 2 years later.

 photo DP2_zps0djzp7jk.png

     Death Parade chose to tell more episodic stories and most of times (excluding episode 6 that stood out like a sore thumb) they were as interesting, or even more complicated and powerful, as the bartender may not always make the right decision. Later on the story became focused on the bartender’s assistant, and it also worked out pretty well. Another huge positive was the OP “Flyers” by BRADIO that instantly became fan favorite. Even if at that time the old Madhouse was no more with MAPPA having already formed, the anime showed that the studio is still capable of amassing some great staff to make something beautiful. Everything wasn’t as rosy, though. The episode 6 felt incredibly out of tune compared to the rest of the series, other quirky and interesting colleagues of the bartender were introduced, but that lead nowhere. Next to the usual stories, there constantly was an undercurrent of something happening that might become even more enamoring compared to the stories of the attendants of the bar, but… I don’t know, maybe the creators were aiming to get a second season, but that plotline even at the very end felt nowhere near completed. Anyway, Death Parade still is an incredibly entertaining show, more times than not successfully trying to unravel human psychology when a person is at an extreme situation.

 photo LWA1_zps918tbefb.png

     Little Witch Academia is another good example of a limited project that later on become something far huger. I have written a bit about the first OVA (and something about its the characters) that was also funded by the same “Young Animator Training Project” and also during the same year as Death Billiards. Some time later Trigger followed it with a longer film crowdfunded using Kickstarter, and finally now the TV anime is airing, even though its availability isn’t something to cheer about. It may not be the best idea to judge a show whose not even a third of all the episodes have already aired, but as we have almost passed that mark, there are some tendencies of the TV anime differing from the original project.

 photo LWA2_zpswpmu1a4r.png

     As the story of Death Billiards could be slipped somewhere between the episodes of Death Parade, TV LWA chose to completely reboot everything right from the start. There aren’t any huge changes, the characters and their motivations are the same, and some scenes are almost identical, albeit a bit differently shot or just expanded. There doesn’t seem to be any big problems with the show, but also I can’t say that it’s the most fantastic anime of all time. Sure, especially at the start there were scenes that only Trigger could do with all of their enthusiasm and skill, but essentially TV LWA is aiming to be more of a slice of life show. There’s nothing bad with it, only the original LWA was done in a way that it’s almost impossible to surpass it – fast pacing, lots of stuff to tell, simple but engaging storytelling and top-tier animation was certainly an achievement to look at with awe. The TV anime inevitably is more relaxed, having to spread the resources through all of the 25 (I’m still not sure if it’s a good idea) episodes, delving more into the inner worlds of the characters and just doing stuff rather than offering all-out action or a tight-knit story with clear objectives. It’s fun, it’s beautiful, it’s charming, but sadly not really reaching the heights of the original LWA. So far.

 photo RnH1_zpsbsfhcwnb.png

     The recent Ryuu no Haisha came into being from a completely different origin – a collection of unconnected and very diverse anime shorts known as Nihon Animator Mihonichi, probably best known for the episode 3 ME!ME!ME!. As the main person behind the series was Hideaki Anno with his studio Khara, it was inevitable that many of the shorts had at least partial ties with NGE. Nevertheless, the first episode didn’t start this trend and delivered quite a confusing story under a name Ryuu no Haisha. As with many other shorts, this one makes an impression that there definitely is a greater story thought out behind not even a 10 minute running length, but the format limited any more prominent developments. After all, the goal of the series is to showcase the abilities of different directors and animators, and because of that some of the shorts don’t even have a plot to begin with. Ryuu no Haisha certainly does, its director Kazuya Tsurumaki having been heavily involved with NGE reboots, KareKano and FLCL, not to mention that Hideaki Anno himself is also on board.

 photo RnH2_zpswvrx1m3f.png

     How did the expansion to one and a half hour length work? Well, for starters everything started making sense, as the story of the short was nicely incorporated into the new material. The short only glanced over a story of a girl who became a dragon dentist (as weird as it sounds) without providing any further explanations. But now there’s a lot of new material, but even as long as it is, Ryuu no Haisha would benefit from even more elaborations about the world and how everything works. The dragon (and of course the strange abilities of its teeth) itself remains a mystery – is it a living creature of flesh and bone, does it have some spiritual significance? The dragon’s body due to CG looks like it’s covered with carved metal, so even a hypothesis of a (partly) cyborgic nature of a dragon may not be as far off a target as it may seem at first. Speaking about the visuals, the character designs were upgraded to look more contemporary though the previous ruff look also wasn’t that bad. Ryuu no Haisha features lots of CG, and especially in the first episode it was handled very well – the mushi (definitely a reference to Mushishi) who harm the teeth look very surreal (as they should) and detailed, but as the second episode has many moving mechanical things such as planes and stuff, CG becomes more apparent, but certainly not as bad as, say, some recent shows about shaking hands. It’s probably no mystery that some scenes made me remember none other than End of Eva as well as ME!ME!ME!. Everything sounds very good, and most of time it really is, but nonetheless I think that the deeper themes were only touched but not explored as well as they could have been, the mechanics of the teeth doing strange things weren’t even glanced at as if it’s a natural thing (and in that world it may be so, but the viewers don’t think that way, though on the other hand no explanation might be a better choice compared to a bad one). Both of the villains fulfill their duties but doesn’t come close to being truly great. Especially the first one and her motivations left me scratching my head. Despite that Hideaki Anno and his pals definitely know how to make anime. I’d rather get the fourth NGE film sooner, but such a little side project with undeniable quality also deserves to be noticed.

 photo RnH3_zpsdacg5cps.png

     Are there similarities between these three expansions of anime shorts? Yes, but not that many. Usually it’s not hard to tell whether a particular short has some potential and hides a grander story behind, but sadly not many shorts are lucky enough to get an opportunity to realize that potential. When such a project is green-lit, everything depends on the available resources – some anime may surpass its predecessor by far, some may struggle to retain the quality. Also, usually the longer a project is, the higher probability to mess it up somewhere. It’s not always the best choice to pursue an expansion in the first place when the resources are particularly limited or the story doesn’t respond to the stretching that well. Anyway, even if it’s probably more easy to make a great anime short than to elaborate it, it’s gratifying to know that there are special initiatives (though not as many as there could be) that let young directors and animators show their skills and in certain cases  get opportunities to evolve their ideas further, thus possibly starting successful careers.

     What are your thoughts about these 3 expanded universes? Do you know any other examples of such kind? Please share!

Scattered Thoughts – Hanabi, queen of complicated relationships

     Only rarely anime romances stray away from the usual formula that ultimately ends the story with a shy kiss or just the joyous action of holding hands. Sure, it’s the ride that matters but sometimes you just want to get something that goes beyond the everyday tropes. And so to the fray comes Kuzu no Honkai with its straightforward breach of the usual barriers. It can be that only the bare fact of showing the more mature side for me acts as a factor making the show look very good. Sure, you can argue that you don’t need to go that far and introduce so many difficult relationships without (possibly) enough time to explore all of them, but I want to overlook that. It’s another question how much realism is in the story, but regardless of the answer I’m very glad that I started watching the show, and not the last positive factor deciding was the complexity of the relationships between the characters and their exploration. You needn’t look far – the very main girl Hanabi can be an example of the mess that happens between people. Let’s stick with her and dig a little deeper.

Before going further I must say that all the thoughts crystalized after the fourth episode of Kuzu no Honkai so in the long run not every idea may retain some meaning. And, of course, beware of spoilers.

Narumi

 photo HN_zpsssbyb6hg.png

      Hanabi’s childhood friend, being a pretty much your usual osananajimi character, isn’t the most interesting guy ever, and he states that himself very clearly. Hanabi’s infatuation with him could be thought of as a whim of her childish side, but she truly believes her love. As far as osananajimis go, Narumi isn’t the worst of them all – he had plenty of time to take care of young Hanabi, standing as a big brother character, which makes Hanabi’s choice of her significant one a bit weird. Yet, I can totally believe that her helper, savior and friend at some point in Hanabi’s head became someone more important in absence of other suitable guys. Another factor that got the pair closer was the fact that they both have incomplete families, so sticking together seemed a logical choice. Thinking about the situation now, Hanabi still firmly believes her love, though so much time spent with Narumi treating her like a little sister has made Hanabi’s wish of being together seem more like an unreachable fantasy. She would like to get a resolve, but the fear of being rejected (especially since Narumi has shown some interest in Akane), leaves Hanabi pondering that after all she could live with her unspoken feelings, if only Narumi wouldn’t be snatched by someone else. Yet, even the appearance of Akane didn’t push Hanabi that much – she tried doing something, but that was not enough. Also, Hanabi still doesn’t want to lose her brother but that’s a price to pay in exchange for the possibility of getting a lover, and the price still looks too high.

Moka

 photo HMo_zpsgz23ellx.png

      Thinking about Hanabi and Moka is very interesting because these almost non-interacting characters have strikingly similar stories. Moka, just like Hanabi loves a more mature guy whom she has known for a very long time, but the guy sees her only as a sister because he already has someone else in mind. The main difference then between Hanabi and Moka is that the latter one isn’t afraid of expressing her feelings. I think that to a certain extent Hanabi, being a more cautious person, looks up to that but also at the same time despises Moka’s actions since she’s so childishly persevere even if her love is unrequired. This makes Hanabi feel that her choice of not approaching Narumi may be the right one, as Mugi certainly isn’t very comfortable and happy about Moka’s advances and generally being a nuisance. From here flows some part of Hanabi’s harshness towards her almost-rival – she understands that it isn’t very fair of her to do so, but even if Hanabi would concede the rights to Mugi, Moka would hardly be able to form her dreamlike relationship. Harsh treatment also drives Moka away from Mugi, so that suits both Hanabi and Mugi in retaining their relationship. Yet, the most significant factor is that Hanabi actually enjoys being superior, thus becoming similar to Akane. Moka’s helpless shout that Hanabi only uses Mugi isn’t wrong per se, it’s just that Mugi also uses Hanabi for the same reason, and for such a girl like Moka their actions probably would be incomprehensible, even if she understood them.

Mugi

 photo HM_zps5x7u0tab.png

     It all started with a simple wish by both sides to be able to talk to someone about their unrequired feelings and to get rid of loneliness. Mugi was already familiar with his past senpai’s stance of being just friends with benefits and nothing more, so he was content just sharing a secret with someone who also needed some help in the same department. Hanabi, being less experienced and more strangled by her loneliness initiated the relationship on a whim almost as a joke, but Mugi complied, suggesting that they’d think about each other as a substitute. The relationship ended up being one where you can talk about your problems, knowing that the other doesn’t care very much, and also get some material to imagine what a true relationship would feel like, even if at some moments both Hanabi and Mugi just want to see the world burn. Akane getting along with Narumi bolstered the pair’s bond, as their problems became mutual. When Hanabi eventually learned what a person Akane is, her frustration became even bigger – she is unable to reach Narumi while the attachment to Mugi was achieved incredibly easily. If the one Hanabi loves had been Mugi, she would be already happy. Hanabi wishes she could behave so casually with Narumi without her fear of being rejected. Also getting more intimate with Mugi is far simpler than with Ecchan. Both are able to be what they truly are without being forced to behave as best they can in front of their special ones. Even if in the future the couple will be able to become to each other something more than a substitute and a makeshift friend, now Hanabi is aware that she is still rather independent and doesn’t want to force all her problems and thoughts on Mugi. Hanabi feels that for her Mugi is needed (as she is for him, though probably to a lesser extent), but if things change, she won’t hesitate to ditch him aside but now Hanabi still cares enough not to share the least bit of Mugi with Moka.

Akane

 photo HA_zpspscnidsf.png

     Hanabi’s relationship with Akane is very ambiguous. These two don’t cross their paths very often but with Akane’s advances towards Narumi the conflict is inevitable. At first, Narumi’s affection alone was enough to make Hanabi annoyed and worried, but it turns out there are bigger problems. Akane, being a master player guessed Hanabi’s feelings, while an accident at a diner revealed Akane’s cards to her counterpart. Thus both of them are aware of each other and are willing to have a game. Hanabi’s resolve to somehow eliminate Narumi’s and Akane’s relationship after learning about the latter’s behavior doubled, but what really shocked her was that Akane’s motivations are exactly opposite to her own (that’s also fitting as Hanabi is dark haired and dresses in darker colors). It was unthinkable for Hanabi to see that someone could so openly go against her own idea that unrequired love is gross and, well, really unrequired, as Hanabi herself has felt by her inability to respond to Ecchan. Akane sees Hanabi’s situation as an opportunity to show her superiority, to win someone and feel better than a girl she bested. That little talk before the bell rang told Hanabi a lot, and to some extent made her admire Akane a little as someone who can make her prey hers without a blink, while Hanabi isn’t able to get what she wants. To Hanabi’s disgust, she realizes that she actually likes being superior to Moka and in that regard the biggest difference between Akane and Hanabi is the former’s experience.

Ecchan

 photo HE_zpsjgihgsk7.png

     Ecchan’s confession for Hanabi was very painful. Her only present close friend without Ecchan is only Mugi, so any change in the relationship between the two girls risks destroying that cherished friendship. Hanabi is alright with calling herself scum for loving without an answer but she’s unable to retain her way of thinking or to add such label to Ecchan. Hanabi also feels left out as Ecchan, as well as Narumi were all able to confess while she doesn’t have the courage. As with Mugi, everything would be so easy if only she could see Ecchan not as a friend. With Ecchan’s confession the friendship inevitably was changed, and Hanabi feels sorry for Ecchan, wanting to comfort her and to be able to answer her, but that’s not possible. Ecchan sees that, but, being desperate, pushes forward. The outcome is very sorry – Ecchan can get the false joy of being closer to Hanabi than ever but knowing that it’s a lie. Hanabi still wants to give everything she can to Ecchan knowing that’s never going to be enough. She could exchange Mugi for Ecchan, but Hanabi isn’t willing to see her only real friend as a substitute for someone thus further destroying everything that their relationship still had.

Hanabi

 photo HH_zpsx5nlhhcz.png

     As basically every character in Kuzu no Honkai (except Akane) Hanabi is very frustrated and unable to reach a certain person. Her other relationships are just a mess of entangled feelings, mixed between other characters, so I guess I can say that it has realism. Sure, you probably won’t find such a rich web of motives, wishes and actions very often, but it feels real enough. As Hanabi’s other relationships are basically houses of cards, some already crumbling and others not even built, she views herself very critically and is unhappy by choices she is given and outcomes of her decisions. It’s not very often that an anime character would be able to accuse others of something, and then to be able to understand that she’s actually the same and after the realization to be able to live with it. Hanabi despises her inability to overcome the fear of being rejected, wanting to continue the stalemate situation with Narumi, wants to help Ecchan, but understands that there’s nothing she can do, tries to drown her frustrations in the toxicity of the relationship with Mugi and overall sees no light in the end of the tunnel. Akane’s coming shakes her world to the core, as Hanabi with a possibility of losing Narumi realizes her similarity to a person she hates the most, and as with everyone else, our inexperienced girl just sinks more and more.

Even if I have read the manga, I eagerly await the upcoming episodes as Kuzu no Honkai continues to execute almost perfectly. Do you think my thoughts were more or less on point? If you have any insights, please share!

Scattered Thoughts – Character similarities in Nichijou and Little Witch Academia

 photo NichiLWA0_zpsai9dtywz.png

     Quite an unusual topic, isn’t it? Everything began when a few days ago I was travelling a bus and just randomly thought about the two original Little Witch Academia films (that I will finish writing about sooner rather than later hopefully) and at the same time my thoughts were meandering around a certain 3×3 that I made, which (of course) contained Nichijou. As I’m not the best person to think about two separate things at the same time, everything got a bit mixed up and I ended up with some striking comparisons. It’s probably not a big deal, but I still wanted to share it.

     As far as I know, both of the original creators of their respective shows – Keiichi Arawi of Nichijou manga and Yoh Yoshinari of LWA – have no more or less noticeable ties so unless Yoshinari has come across Nichijou at some point (which in itself would be interesting), there’s some intriguing character archetypes thing going on. I probably needn’t say that the context in which the characters appear is also vastly different – Nichijou primarily concerns various unordinary things happening among very down to earth stuff for the sake of a good laugh, while LWA, which could be far easier compared to a hybrid of Harry Potter and Disney films, just tells a story of an ordinary girl among magical stuff.

Round 1 – Yuuko Aioi and Atsuko Kagari

 photo NichiLWA1_zpsmc4k3lcy.png

     As Akko undoubtedly is the single protagonist in LWA, Yukko shares a lot of screen time with other characters, but she still remains the central piece of the show, through whose eyes we see many of the unordinary situations. Is there some better unifying aspect? Yes, there is. Both of the heroines share the same slightly tomboyish attitude and unending enthusiasm in situations like organizing a festival or trying to make a certain poker-faced friend (and not only her) laugh. Akko as well as Yukko (man, now I notice that even their nicknames sound surprisingly similar) will do anything to achieve what they want, even if neither of them may possess the skills needed for their goals and often end up messing something up – be it broom-riding or remembering your homework. Both of the girls depend very much on their friends and in dire situations expect to be helped as conversely they would undoubtedly help others in need, yet the endless enthusiasm sometimes gets in a way and prevents them from seeing the right choices in their relationships. Yukko differs from Akko by having more thoughtful moments which for example include making some poetry, albeit it might not be in a very self-aware way. Still, Akko has yet a vast story to be told about her, so some more pronounced artistic abilities may yet breech the surface.

Round 2 – Mio Naganohara and Lotte Yanson

 photo NichiLWA2_zpsca8q6dfp.png

     It wouldn’t be unfair to say that both Mio and Lotte are the most normal ones out of their respective groups. As LWA isn’t that generous in giving enough time to the supporting characters, there isn’t much information about Lotte, but again it’s enough to find some similarities. Both of the girls usually end up helping their energetic friends – Akko and Yukko – while on their own performing quite well on the academic level. Apart from being sincere, Mio with Lotte shares a passion for some art – in Mio’s case that’s drawing some yaoi manga, in Lotte’s – far more sociably acceptable singing. Both girls appear to be optimistic, but sometimes their tender sides show up and make them the most sensitive among their friends. Mio’s own specialty is her crush on Sasahara, but Lotte wasn’t given time for that. Yet I’d bet that if some suitable guy shows up any time soon, she’d be the first to fall for him.

Round 3 – Mai Minakami and Sucy Manbav…Manvab… Manbab…whatever…

 photo NichiLWA3_zpseihcykbr.png

     If I had to describe these two in one word, it would be “brains”. Mai and Sucy share their quietness and huge academic potential, but their friends probably would feel a bit safer if these two wouldn’t be so advanced compared to the base level. Because of that Mai and Sucy never lose a chance to have some fun (as they understand it) at expense of their energetic friends – Mai is a perfect embodiment and definition of the concept of a troll, getting Yukko in all kinds of weird situations, while Sucy does endless magical experiments that usually end up affecting none other than Akko. Nevertheless, both Mai and Sucy, as the rest of their groups, deeply care about their friends and when in great need, throw away their almost jerk-like attitudes and come to help, and not only because without their friends there would be no one to make fun of. Also, Sucy seems very interested in various poisons, as much as Mai likes carving Maitreya statues.

Round 4 – what else? 

 photo NichiLWA4_zpsgz9bppax.png

     There the most striking similarities end, and mainly due to LWA being rather short and content with using primarily the three main characters through both of the films while others receive (if they do at all) the spotlight rather rarely. Yet, one particular quirk or another shows up, so some comparisons, even if very approximate, still can be done. Thus Diana from LWA, having a role of an antagonist, may represent Nakamura the science teacher in Nichijou, though the latter is far less arrogant, but as well as Diana actually is a good person in heart. In terms of a more delinquent-like person who likes to keep everything in control, we have Amanda and Sakamoto(-san). Constanze and Hakase, both being not that tall, share a love for various technology related things and construct lots of gadgets (be it a random robot or Nano), Hakase also could represent Jasminka because of their love for some good meal. Nichijou, telling more ordinary stories (well, on the surface level), doesn’t have such an inspirational person as Shiny Chariot in LWA, but Takasaki-sensei partly occupies the niche as someone who was good at something (that being Igo Soccer) earlier but now everybody has forgotten it, though at times he reuses his old knowledge.

As you see, the farther we go, the more obscure the comparisons become. As I said, it’s partly due to the fact that LWA has given very little time to the supporting cast, and, after all, Nichijou and LWA are two completely different shows, so total match between them would be more than ridiculous. Yet, the great similarities at least between the main three girls of the show are more than apparent. To think about a wider perspective, even in such a classic as Azumanga Daioh you could combine the traits of the main characters to get almost the same result as with Nichijou and LWA. Thus Yukari-sensei, Kagura and Tomo take the place of the energetic character, Sakaki and Nyamo combine to make up a rather normal with a secret passion, Chiyo becomes the smart one whose usage of some poker-face comes from Yomi. But it’s not only possible with Azumanga Daioh. Another possible candidate – Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is also not proof to character tropes – Nozaki gets the role of the smart deadpan character, Chiyo is a normal one and Mikoshiba occupies the vacant enthusiastic type.

 photo NichiLWA5_zpsmpib0x95.png

     I think it’s just a matter of randomness that I started noticing common things between Nichijou and LWA because character tropes are a very widely spread phenomenon. Still, these two shows appear to have a very deep running character similarity that transcends all the huge differences between the worlds both of the stories take place in. I’d even say that if both shows exchanged their main three girls, their respective stories still might develop fairly fine, almost as if nothing had happened. I guess the conclusion could be that no matter the circumstances, to have a believable and pretty much self-sustained source of character interactions, particularly in the slice of life genre, you only need three main characters – one too enthusiastic, one normal, but not really, and the third – an intelligent person with a knack for making fun of people.

Scattered Thoughts – Usagi Drop and My Girl

 photo UM0_zpsqe1pykpw.png

     A single man starts looking after a little girl, ponders about his romance perspectives and woes of a single father. The bond between the man and the girl becomes stronger and stronger, both of them also make a friend of a boy whose family circumstances are complicated. Now please guess which manga I’m talking about – Usagi Drop by Yumi Unita or My Girl by Mizu Sahara (yep, the pen name’s pretty hilarious, isn’t it?)? As this is more of an anime blog and Usagi Drop is fortunate enough to have received a brilliant anime adaptation by Production I.G (by the way, Usagi Drop is one of those rare cases when fans after receiving an incomplete anime adaptation remain more content than not, but more about it later), this may be your answer but actually the premise holds for both of the manga. Even some situations encountered by the characters are coming close to being identical. Yet despite striking similarities, My Girl and Usagi Drop remain vastly different.

 photo U2_zps9vcim4bz.jpg

     Let’s begin with Usagi Drop. The story follows 30-year-old Daikichi, who after his grandpa’s death decides to take in Rin, grandpa’s illegitimate child. The situation seems awkward since Rin despite being 24 years younger than Daikichi in theory is his aunt. The confusion doesn’t appear that important after all – Rin quickly adapts to her new life, as well as Daikichi. The story then revolves about everyday life of the new family, with some more interesting elements added, such as Daikichi trying to investigate Rin’s mother’s identity or the family making acquaintances with Kouki, a boy of Rin’s age, and his single mother. Some of the most heartwarming moments come from this cohesion of the two incomplete families, affirming that through empathy and care even broken things don’t have to feel broken. All the sweet stuff goes on for 4 volumes, as much as the anime has covered (and that’s the reason why it’s so good). Then the story takes a huge turn, introducing a 10 year time leap to the period of Rin being a high-schooler (with some flashbacks to Rin being in a middle-school) which corresponds to the volumes 5-9. The time leap isn’t bad in itself but it almost completely negates the premise of a father and daughter relationship told from the father’s perspective, as Rin (and Kouki) more times than not assume the position of POV characters. Later on, and that’s probably the main reason of the disfavor of many fans for the later part of the manga, a certain character pairing is introduced and some social inconveniences are removed in a very deus ex machina way. The last volume covers some untold side stories from the whole time period. Seeing Rin as a child again feels refreshing but at the same time a bit pointless because knowing all that’s yet to happen to that lovely family later on adds some bitter taste.

 photo M2_zpszpijswtg.jpg

     My Girl begins in quite a similar way. Much younger (than Daikichi) Masamune, sometimes struggling office worker, suddenly finds out that his long gone ex-girlfriend Youko died in an accident and that for Masamune, who still harbors feelings for her, it’s some devastating news. Even more unexpectedly it turns out that Youko had had a daughter Koharu by him without his slightest knowledge and now as the child somehow manages to find Masamune himself, he decides to fulfil his responsibility to Koharu, to Youko and to himself. The 5-volume journey of My Girl doesn’t take any twists and turns as Usagi Drop did and even if Koharu is shown to grow, the story (also being shorter) doesn’t expand more than a few years which are more due to the different tales to be told rather than to be the focus of the change in the child and her needs. The only complaint I could have about Koharu would only be that she appears to be a tad too mature despite her age. Sure, traumatic experiences may hasten the process but to hear such deep things that Koharu sometimes says from a girl who’s not even a middle-schooler yet requires some suspension of disbelief. On the other hand, it accompanies the general mood of the story which takes a more emotional route than Usagi Drop which before the time twist was centered mainly on not so dramatic events.

 photo U1_zpsg39ospem.jpg      To start comparing things in more depth, in Usagi Drop Daikichi always remains the adult. Sure, later on Rin sometimes may hold the initiative, but at first every important decision must be carried out by Daikichi himself. Daikichi’s parents as well as the rest of the family in the beginning treat Rin like a very uncomfortable and irritating thing, almost not even a person so the responsibility from the get go is Daikichi’s alone. Later on seeing how adorable Rin is everyone warmed up but the center of Rin’s family world remained Daikichi. Masamune is far more inexperienced in such matters and when Daikichi tries to think out everything by himself, Masamune doesn’t shy to seek help from his parents and Youko’s mom. The family in My Girl look more cohesive and everyone tries to help Masamune in every way they can, even so when Koharu just like Rin wins everybody’s hearts. Another vast difference lies in the dissimilar romantic situations of the both of the fathers. Daikichi seems to be the embodiment of a middle aged man who still tries to get a partner but more and more just because of the social standards than from the actual need. When Kouki’s mom appears in the horizon Daikichi sure doesn’t remain indifferent but let’s leave the spoiler field untrodden. On the other hand, Masamune remains very strongly attached to Youko and is unable to move on by any means.  photo M1_zpsexn4iwej.jpgHis parents find that a bit troubling and try to take some measures but ultimately it remains Masamune’s decision to make.
As Daikichi (sadly) doesn’t go through any more significant transformation (even if Usagi Drop tells a longer story), Masamune’s character arc of constant struggle whether to keep his heart for Youko forever or to change something makes him a very compelling, relatable and realistic character to read about. This also leads to Masamune’s discomfort of not being able to offer as much time to Koharu as he wants (and she needs) and provide so important maternal care. Daikichi doesn’t have such big a problem since Kouki’s mom usually isn’t that far away and is able to give help and also receive some fatherly help from Daikichi to her son.

 photo UM3_zpsjx3zhrwy.jpg

     Going to a different level of comparison, I think the artstyle definitely favors My Girl. Of course that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with Usagi Drop. There everything is kept fairly simple and minimalistic, which in turn adds to the light-heartedness of the general atmosphere early on. Character face expressions may not be the most complex ones but they convey the message pretty clearly and more times than not it’s enough. Also, it’s told that Daikichi himself isn’t the most handsome man and the depiction of him clearly shows that. For the other characters sometimes relatively ungraceful hands may not seem very appealing but that’s coming too close to nitpicking. On the other hand, My Girl can definitely be proud by taking an extra mile and making the characters look as realistic and compelling as its gets in manga. Sure, it may be just the matter of preference but Mizu Sahara (or however you find her signing as) holds the second place in my favorite mangakas (by artstyle) list only after Inio Asano. The only slightly weird feature I found in the art of My Girl is that the ears of the characters sometimes stick a bit too much for my taste. As well as emotions are portrayed in Usagi Drop, having a much wider variety of them as well as making the faces of the characters far more detailed, gives more points to My Girl. When emotions are involved, subtler facial differences make the characters more relatable, and more simple designs that fit well with comedic moments aren’t able to hold their position as well in this case.

 photo UM2_zpsoyj9clye.jpg

     Well, after all I would gladly recommend both manga to read. Usagi Drop is a bit trickier because for anyone who expects only a father and daughter relationship of the manga the second half may be hard to stomach. Yet, even the high-school drama should be easier to take than in most cases because at that point the reader already knows the characters and is invested in them. As far as the ending goes, I can only say that with a pinch of tolerance and open-mindness it’s serviceable. You may not like it as much as the first half (practically my case) but that can be treated just as a possible scenario. Not very probable but still possible. After all, life doesn’t always go the way you want. Anyway, if you don’t feel brave enough, the anime is always a safer route so you should check it out in any case. Yet, I feel that My Girl comes only slightly but still a bit better off – probably more relatable and emotionally affecting situation with a struggling protagonist who feels a lot more thrown out of balance because of the taking in of the girl and looks more accomplished by the end of the manga. Anyway, both manga provide slightly different perspectives of a father and daughter relationship and though they share many differences, I think and hope that both are worth your time and fingers crossed they would provide an enjoyable experience.

 photo UM1_zpsheael0ax.png

Scattered Thoughts – about the Hype

 photo Tarou-Victory_zpsjxn3vxnm.jpg

     Probably everybody has already talked about hype these days or soon will – it’s a phenomenon you just can’t escape – you either notice it or directly participate in it. My own two cents may not provide any really new points in the discussion about the hype train and I have to confess that my thoughts might be not that different from those people who have already stated their opinions. Anyway, I saw a post by Lethargic Ramblings and though I can agree on many points, there are some aspects that I would like to share my opinion about, mainly about the topic looking from the perspective of the anime community. As Lethargic Ramblings correctly stated, hype of the airing (or soon to be aired) season lets the fandom to understand better which shows deserve at least to be checked out despite their possible future successes of failures. Of course it only works if your own opinion is more or less consistent with the consensus opinion of the community.

     To think of it, on some level hype enables us anime fans to work better as a community. The essence of a community is the ability to have something in common (as the word itself suggests). And if the majority of the fandom because of the hype ends up watching the same three or four shows every season it opens easily perceptible ways to have what to talk about. Otherwise there would be little sub-communities formed around each of the airing shows but as the anime production tempos and extents are getting faster and wider, the possibility appears to have some central shows that everybody watches out of all the anime we are getting and that makes the whole community more united. Well, of course not everyone’s opinions will coincide but just the ability to discuss a certain anime with more people is one of the best advantages of having hyped shows no matter if they turn out to be good or bad by the end of the day.

     On the other hand, frankly I’m not one of the people who would end up watching something just because it’s popular. Yes, sometimes it’s the case (like with 3-gatsu no Lion this season), as the predictions whether a show will be good often have some grain of salt in them and it would be very untrue and foolish to claim that all the hyped showed end up forgotten. Yet, the hype itself must be taken reservedly. Weather forecasts still end up being more times false than a hyped anime turns out to be not that good but buying a cat in a sack also has risks. It’s especially relevant to me since I tend to complete every anime I start (should I be ashamed?) and anyway due to time limits I don’t even watch too many seasonal anime to begin with. What I want to say is that I’d rather watch some old anime that has already proved to be decent rather than experiment a lot and end up having to force myself through something I don’t enjoy. Yes, it comes down to my own mindset and every saner person would undoubtedly drop something that has lost its appeal. Still, the time spent watching the beginning of such anime as well as hopes about it turning out good won’t ever be returned. I think in this case spending your time on some already tested and approved show would be more efficient.

     Of course, getting overboard with shouts that hype is destroying anime and similar stuff doesn’t help the community. Also, as much as old anime need and deserve appreciation, the new series also have much to provide. Probably I would be watching hardly anything airing right now if having to talk to many people about current anime hadn’t been so much fun. Everyone has their opinions and people certainly may get too excited to see everyone watching the newest shows and not paying enough attention to older anime. Being oblivious to any recommendations of others may also be not the wisest decision. No one has any right to feel omnipotent or having superior knowledge/taste and to force anybody to watch (or not) any show but I can imagine that it could be a bit frustrating to see people immerse only in contemporary or older anime and miss opportunities to try something else. Well, everything just comes down to the ability of the members of the community to discuss and share opinions in a civilized way – a person shouting “All your hyped current shows are terrible” is as wrong as the other answering “shut up you elitist prick”.

     While Lethargic Ramblings proposes to ignore any annoying hype haters or excessive promoters (and I completely agree for most cases), I’d add that there could be a grain of salt in many opinions and it should be examined through discussion. Returning to older anime from time to time and skipping a show that you don’t feel is for you on one hand and trying to analyse why exactly some show is so popular  on the other may present you some unexpectedly enjoyable anime to watch. Well, hype may overpraise current airing shows that don’t deserve it and otherwise wouldn’t be watched as much but it also provides many opportunities to find any common topics to discuss about with the anime community. The hype train certainly isn’t the best way to find good anime but as a means to immerse into the anime fandom its worth shouldn’t be underestimated. I guess as everywhere the key is balance – the right combination of currently airing shows to keep up with the state of the medium and a fair amount of backlog stuff that has already been well rated.