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Created by several of the founding members of Gainax (about a year before their studio even formed) to commemorate the 1983 Japanese science fiction fan expo Nihon SF Taikai (AKA Daicon IV, Wikipedia explains it better than I can), this video is comprised of 100% original animation, so referring to it as a traditional AMV by any sense of the term wouldn’t really be correct, no matter how many people have surely done so over the years. But it is funny how, despite its status as both a commercial project and a legitimate piece of wholly original art, it still managed to fall victim to the classic downfall of thousands of AMVs that would follow in the decades to come. Set to the tune of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Twilight,” the creators’ failure to secure clearance to use the song would eventually cement their project’s legacy as a historical curiosity, hardly a “lost” classic but definitely an important work that was never able to take advantage of the proper VHS/DVD release it surely deserved in one form or another. Even as FLCL keeps going strong (nigh on fifteen years and counting), arguably its most noteworthy inspiration and point of reference remains virtually unknown to a lot of its biggest fans. Then again, it’s here on the Internet for all to watch today, which is surely a more efficient means of it finding an audience in 2015 than having any official DVD release… but I’m not holding my breath for those first million views to roll in any time soon.
Don’t confuse my fondness for this short film as any kind of tacit approval for the continued use of unnecessary on-screen lyrics in AMVs. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Movies are made to be watched in a theater on a big screen. I always considered that a no-brainer but I’ve actually come across people who consider that an antiquated and wrong opinion, so I guess I can’t really state it as the fact that I’d always assumed it was. As for myself, I’ve always found that going to a theater, sitting in the dark with an audience, and watching a huge, projected image with high-quality surround sound to be a much more immersive and heightened experience than watching anything on my television or computer. How could it not be? Watching a great movie in a theater can feel like an event in the way that watching the same film at home usually cannot. Can watching Netflix on your phone give you the same sensation of escape as actually going to the movies? You tell me.
AMVs aren’t movies and the conference rooms they’re shown in at conventions aren’t theaters, but I feel that all the same factors are at work, along with the intangible experience of the convention itself. The feeling of being a room with 5, 50, or 500 people who like the same weird stuff that you do — specifically, speaking — is something that you just won’t get out of the two hours you spent at the local multiplex watching Jurassic World, surrounded by strangers whose interests probably aren’t anything like yours at all. But that’s another matter altogether separate from the bigger, brighter, louder sensory experience that you’ll get in such a setting, especially compared to the confining little displays that we typically watch AMVs on. Where am I going with this, anyway?
About four months before making my first AMV (a predictably terrible but also pretentiously boring waste of time, don’t bother), I went to Anime Central and attended an Iron Editor panel/contest/sitting party and really enjoyed it. I wasn’t caught up in whatever it was that the contestants were editing; the audience was only given a few glimpses at their works in-progress, anyway. What I did enjoy was how the hosts got the audience involved in games and showed a bunch of AMVs. Some were old, some were new, all were very upbeat and perfect for the context of the evening, which wasn’t about anything other than just having fun. “Rostrogen 2” was one of them — apparently the sequel to this AMV — and it really took me by surprise because this was probably the first time I’d ever seen one like it. And by “like it” I’m referring to multi-sourced, upbeat action AMVs that feature short clips packed with vivid animation, action sequences, scenes of characters posing, “powering up” and doing other cool-looking things, with occasional lyric sync but primarily relying on internal sync and transitions that blur the line between where one clip ends and another begins. They’re neither “action” nor “dance” videos, not strictly speaking. But at their best they can feel like a cross between both, which is probably why I couldn’t resist this one.
None of this was running through my head the first time I watched “Rostrogen 2,” probably because I wasn’t aware of how it might have been fitting or defying the conventions of these kind AMVs. Instead, I was simply caught up in its exuberant spirit and in the scale of the presentation, which made it one of those rare viewing experiences that wasn’t only surprisingly enjoyable, but genuinely joyful. This was not simply because of its positive and celebratory tone, but because it struck a chord in me that I’d never really felt from an AMV before, one that made me reconsider the limits of what the whole medium was even capable of emotionally evoking. Not sure if it’s inspired me to make anything that’s even remotely as affecting or technically impressive, but if I had to pick a single catalyst for why I started editing, it would probably be this AMV.
Since then, I’ve grown a little weary of AMVs that follow this blueprint, particularly as they’ve come to rely more and more on masked transitions — a technique that, in most cases, I absolutely hate for reasons I cannot explain — and the bulk lifting of clips from various opening and ending sequences, a choice that has always struck me as substitute for creative scene selection and a way for editors to cheaply stamp their name on something that’s already well-recognized and designed to trigger viewers’ emotions and memories. Maybe I’m just bitter that, more often than not, these are the AMVs that viewers seem to respond most positively to. Whether that’s reality or just my skewed perception of it, I’m not sure. Should I be taking Youtube and /r/AMV seriously? Who knows! I do know that “Rostrogen 2” still resonates with me today, or at least as much as it still can while I’m sitting here at my computer in my pajamas.
It’s been a while since I’ve had an actual “okay what did I just watch?”-moment quite like this. This isn’t music that I ever expected to hear in a Serial Experiments Lain AMV, and the sensation of contextual disorientation (?) that kicked in around the 0:28 mark was a feeling that my brain honestly had no idea what to do with.
And yet, this is still a fairly standard (though well-edited) Lain AMV, at least in terms of its composition and clip selection. And what kind of music was I expecting to hear in this? A quick skim through the Org — which is probably a reasonably accurate database of almost all of the Lain AMVs out there, seeing how the series’ popularity predated the rise of Youtube — brings up a seemingly-random list of artists from nearly any genre (except rap and country, as usual). I haven’t completely read through all of it and don’t plan on doing so but I’m confident there’s nothing else quite as upbeat and jammy-sounding as this anywhere in there.
If you’re a stickler for the unspoken rules of tasteful editing and flawless footage, you may want to skip this AMV. As for myself, the apparent disregard for those time-tested hallmarks of quality (not) on display here somehow makes it more enjoyable. That’s not to say that I don’t care how a video looks, or that repetitive effects have never ruined a good AMV for me. It’s just that, once in a while, an AMV brings something to the table that really gets it into your good graces despite any “flaws” that it might have. Maybe it’s an anime series you love, or music that you really like. In this case, the second I found out there was an AMV set to “Percolator,” I was sure I was going to love it. That’s precisely the kind of positive prejudice that annoys me when it concerns other people who set their standards aside anytime they encounter a video that uses something that they like. It’s funny how that suddenly doesn’t apply to myself, isn’t it?
I don’t know if “Percolator” was ever any kind of hit outside of Chicago — the big city I’ve always called my own despite never living less than a half hour’s drive away — or if anyone really knew about it when it came out. It was a really weird song to hear on the radio but there it was. I honestly don’t know if this song was ever a hit outside of Chicago. I don’t how people felt about it back then and I can’t imagine how people might feel about it now. I expect that there’s no small amount of listeners who love getting down to Green Velvet tech-house sets — which are perfectly timed with when I leave work for the long drive home every Saturday night — who would mistake this kind of raw-sounding production for technical incompetence. I never felt that way, not even when I was a kid, which sorta makes me feel like I’m part of some special club, which is nonsense, of course. It’s nostalgia, I’m sure, but it’s different from the usual kind of media consumption-associated memories that I normally feel about this stuff and the shared experiences I had around it with other people. It was more personal than that but that’s as close as I’ll come to trying to describe it, assuming that my memories about these kind of things can really be trusted in the first place.
It’s tempting to say that viewers might misunderstand this AMV for the same kind of reasons that EDM fans might scoff at actual Chicago house music. But that’s not very fair to people who, despite their best efforts, can’t help but feel a little nauseous while watching this. Maybe it’s a case of sensory overload. Or maybe it’s just another instance where I find myself attracted to things that most normal people find irritatingly objectionable. It’s like the PTC testing strips, which tasted terrible to everyone in my high school biology class except for me. I definitely don’t think that this AMV is epilepsy fuel but I recognize the fact that some viewers simply won’t be able to make it all the way through.
Up to this point I’ve spent a lot of time talking about other people’s opinions instead of the video itself. Ultimately it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it. But whether or not you’re a seasoned editor or a beginner, a casual fan of AMVs or a discerning collector (who’ve been a slowly-dying breed for nearly a decade now), you know the unspoken rules that are supposed to be followed. Never upscale your footage, don’t make a video with inconsistent aspect ratios, only use video ripped from DVDs, etc. The rules aren’t a guide to making a masterpiece, but they’ll at least give your project the potential (however small) to become one.
All that collected wisdom goes right out the window for this AMV, edited nearly ten years ago by setalone. The basic effects used in this video, which I won’t attempt to describe, just work for me. Probably not on their own and maybe not with any other song in the world, but the internal sync between them, the track’s bouncy baseline, unpolished beats and love-it/hate-it “melody,” makes for an unexpectedly hypnotic experience. Or at least it has for me. I have more important things to do than write this entry while it plays on a loop in another window, but seeing how I’m kind of in a trance, they might have to wait.
Essentially, I don’t think this is a truly great AMV, at least not in a traditional sense. The lip sync, possibly not even necessary, doesn’t always hit the mark. While I think the at-times low-quality footage is somewhat fitting for such a raw and gritty-sounding song, the end product could probably have been improved by using DVD-quality footage. There’s jagged aliasing in static shots that has no place in any AMV. But for whatever reason, I don’t care. Maybe I’m burned out on HD quality AMVs where every cut and effect is applied with sublime precision and want to go back to a simpler time? Maybe I want this AMV to be better than it is. I love it, but is that because of how it’s edited or because of the simple fact that even it exists at all? Even by the anything-goes standards of the mid-2000s, this shouldn’t have ever been made (let alone archived for posterity), and the fact that it indeed was is still amazing to me. It doesn’t appear to have ever been popular, which is unfortunate but understandable. It would be nice if more people would watch weird AMVs like this. Better still would be more people editing weird AMVs made in the same spirit that toe the line between being ridiculously creative and potentially-disastrous. Either way, the results are bound to be entertaining.
At first, I was sure this AMV (edited by Os2) wasn’t going anywhere and almost gave up on it.
It wasn’t even two minutes later that I realized I’d made a terrible prejudgement and that I was witnessing what was probably the essential Watamote AMV. And I mean that on so many levels.
I roll my eyes at everything EDM/nu-dubstep but then I remember there was a time that I really loved everything about this and that a small part of me still does.
Watching Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April) has been an interesting experience that’s brought on a lot of complicated feelings of a personal nature. This has been happening to me a lot over the past month or two, often while watching different series or films that were never meant to be half as serious as this, but I feel like this series may have been the catalyst for that. This is stuff that I don’t know how to talk about publicly without embarrassing myself or just getting hopelessly off track so I don’t know if I’ll get too deep into it here or not. This probably won’t be the last time I write about this series so maybe I’ll finish some of these thoughts at a later date.
I kinda think this is the best drama I’ve ever watched, but I’m wary about resorting to superlatives. Looking over every anime title I’ve ever watched, I realize that despite my alleged affection for slow-paced or “thoughtful” series, I really haven’t watched very much at all that could be classified as drama (anime films are a different matter). This is a very unexpected realization to come to because I always thought that I had a real appreciation for this kind of storytelling. Apparently I don’t, so take my opinions with a grain of salt, if you choose.
Your Lie in April (I’ll be sticking to the English title from now on) was a series I started on a whim, and while the first episode teased an interesting premise that could lead somewhere interesting, so much of it was loaded with the kind of red flags that tell me not to expect too much. The animation, or at least the backgrounds (to say nothing of the great character design), were really beautiful. Too beautiful, perhaps. Midway through the episode I began to wonder how characters could even see where they were walking with the steady rain of cherry blossoms perpetually raining down on them. One of our main characters is introduced not only with said downpour of cherry blossoms, but a flock of majestic pigeons encircling her from above like a halo. Without introducing any kind of significant plot or establishing any kind of unique identity for itself at this point, it’s tempting to fawn over how pretty it all is while wondering if this might be another case of style over substance. But there’s a lot more to it than the gorgeous visuals and the vaguely Shinkai-inspired melodrama that you’d expect from them. There’s plenty of lighthearted moments as well as the kind of comically-violent overreactions unique to anime that are funny in small doses (and work much better on the printed page than on the screen, imho) but have never done much for me as any kind of steady running gag. This isn’t really important but I’ll be coming back to it later for reasons you probably won’t expect.
The setup: Kousei is a young piano prodigy who’s taking a permanent break of sorts from performing. It’s not that he’s actually quit, but rather has lost the only reason he ever knew for performing in the first place. Though a series of flashbacks, mostly flushed out after the first episode, we watch Kousei as his mother pushes him through grueling practices and an endless series of recitals that gradually rob him of a normal childhood. His childhood friend Tsubaki and best bud Watari have stuck by his side for years and give Kousei a reason to smile (or at least pretend to), but left to himself it’s clear that Kousei is suffering from a deep sadness that’s consumed his whole life. There’s a few major plot points that other bloggers will explain in detail but which I’d rather leave unmentioned. They’re hardly spoilers, but I think that episode synopses often do a disservice for potential viewers who deserve to experience the story on their own.
Episodes 1-11 are chiefly concerned with getting to the bottom Kousei’s gloom and resolving his inner conflicts. And when we meet Kaori, a brilliant young violinist who takes an interest in Kousei, it’s probably obvious that she’s going to play a big role in getting his life back on track. This kind of character has gotten a bad rap over the past few years but I think it’s important to let the story run its course before writing her off as a simple plot device to help induce change in the central protagonist. And it’s not as if she doesn’t have a lot of interesting character traits on her own; her love of music as a form of personal expression stands in stark contrast to the mechanical and impersonal style mercilessly drilled into Kousei over the years. These episodes do not explore her life in detail, but give us a few startling glimpses into it that hint at a potential focal point for the second half of the series. That’s all speculation, of course, and I’d rather focus on what’s here instead of trying to predict where the story is going (like most fans on Twitter seem obsessed with doing).
One aspect of the series that I need to mention here but don’t know where else to work in to this post: the characters’ musical performances, which feature prominently in several episodes and play a big part in the story, do not disappoint. Aside from sounding fantastic and getting me really engaged in a type of music that I don’t listen to very often, the performances are animated really well. And I’m not an expert or anything, but I’m pretty sure that every note we hear corresponds to the piano keys we see Kousei playing, or the hand and bow motions of Kaori as she plays the violin. Most series do not spend much time or effort animating these kind of scenes with any sort of authenticity, so it’s striking to watch and appreciate one that actually does.
What came as a shock to me is that a small but significant number of viewers/bloggers have criticized the series on grounds that never occurred to me as any kind of a problem. Namely, the treatment of Kousei by Kaori, who employs a tough-love approach that some viewers have interpreted as sadistic bullying. I cannot say that ever crossed my mind or came close to crossing any kind of line for me, possibly because I was very caught up in the story and never detected anything remotely selfish or cruel in her behavior or motives. She occasionally lashes out at Kousei in spontaneous acts of violence, kicking and punching him with no restraint, but these scenes are clearly not meant to be taken literally, not any more than this or this. I’m definitely simplifying the gist of these viewers’ arguments, which don’t really focus on those kind of scenes as much as the bigger game that Kaori seems to be playing. Is it right or wrong for her to push an emotionally-fragile person into potentially traumatizing situations (even if it’s allegedly for his own good)? I’ve been willing to give her the benefit of the doubt; she seems to sense Kousei’s potential for perseverance moreso than he (or the audience) can. She clearly does not enjoy watching him suffer, which leads me to conclude that the intent behind her actions is rooted in kindness and sympathy. Maybe this whole paragraph wasn’t necessary at all but I felt the need to address this meme that seems to be hanging over the series.
I’m not sure if this series could work if the characters weren’t likable. I mean, I guess there may be viewers who hate Shinji but still love Evangelion, but that’s probably comparing apples to oranges. I really like all the characters in this series (even Watari, whose arrogance is over the top to the point where it’s actually sort of endearing) and can’t help but get really caught up in their lives. The characters’ struggles with self-esteem and happiness and relationships are absolutely the stuff of real life, but stepping back from the “realism” of the series, it’s obvious that almost everything here is idealized to a completely unrealistic extent. So it goes for a lot of anime series, of course. But the world this story takes place in looks so much like our own that it’s really easy to give in to it and experience it as an extension of our own reality. That illusion of reality at work here makes the story and the characters feel possible in a way that almost all of my favorite series (Eureka Seven, Evangelion, Madoka, or Haibane Renmei) just can’t be without buying in to a certain level of fantasy. And that’s what I love most about this series, not to mention part of why I get such a particular and strange feeling from it that I’ve never really experienced from any other series. Asking myself why I feel that way is where things start to get weird.
A lot of this comes down to feeling nostalgic for a certain age in my life, a time that I remember fondly but also regret to no small degree. It’s possible that that’s normal, maybe even so normal that it’s not even worth expressing any grievances over. As long ago as middle school, I was craving a certain level of autonomy in my life that my circumstances simply didn’t permit. I’m not going to rant about this other than to say that it was not a very pleasant time and that it probably had lasting effects on me, although I’ve since come to understand that it never had to. It’s hard to know any better at that age (if you did, consider yourself fortunate), and coming around to understand how much I might have missed out on in the years since has really weighed on me. I’m sure I’ve indulged myself with fiction to fill that void, which has probably given me a lot of crazy ideas about how the world is “supposed” to work and the inevitability of those laws winning out in the end (nonsense that I was born predisposed to believing, probably reinforced by religion and just growing up as a weird kid in general). Take a moment to actually examine those feelings and it’s clear that the world isn’t supposed to be anything other than the often-unpleasant and messy place it’s always been. Maybe that should be comforting. Or not.
Where was I going with this? There’s nothing noble or admirable about depression or sadness or loss. Yet in this heightened version of reality, there’s something to be said for enduring them, and the beautiful sense of justice that governs these worlds ensures that characters have both the tools and the necessary push to persevere through such trials. Obviously, real life doesn’t work this way; misfortune compounds and salvation is rarely awarded to those who need it most. We empathize with the main characters from an omniscient perspective. Maybe our willingness to do that comes out of the same desire we have for Someone or Something to do the same for us?
Despite everything I just wrote — which, let’s face it, could be applied to almost any story if you tried, assuming that it makes any sense at all — my fondness for Your Lie in April and the pleasure it brings still outweighs any existential despair that it’s lead me to consider during its excruciating 2 or 3 week hiatus over the holidays. I’ve watched about half of its available episodes more than once, an indulgence I probably won’t keep up now that my last semester has begun. I will be making the time to catch up on new episodes tonight, not to mention writing one more entry about it when it wraps up this spring. I’ve nothing else to say for this in terms of any sort of conclusion. Hopefully the back half of this series is as satisfying as everything I’ve seen so far.
I wrote 95% of this 9 months ago and forgot about it until today. Some of this makes me cringe and I wish it could have been written differently but here it is anyway, warts and all. It’s been almost two weeks since I saw The Wind Rises. I left the theater wondering if I was going to come back again to watch it a second time. It’s most assuredly gone now so I’ll have to wait for a Blu-Ray release, where it’ll probably take its place next to my unopened copy of Wolf Children and other films I’ve picked up but still haven’t watched since getting my Blu-Ray player for Christmas. I was anticipating this film more than I have for any movie in quite a long time. It was an experience that did not disappoint, but that’s a far cry from saying that it delivered exactly what I was hoping for. I found it very inspiring, although not in the way that most of its admirers likely do. Obviously, my feelings about this film are a little complicated, and I don’t know if I’m going to come any closer to clarifying them by the time I’m done writing this.
The Wind Rises is a beautiful film and does not visually disappoint. The color and the detail is as vivid as anything every produce by Studio Ghibli. This kind of look is probably misunderstood as old-fashioned and boring by most Western viewers who’ve had their brains melted by a decade-plus of gaudy CGI cartoons that have set the standard for what is “realistic” and “beautiful,” two words that have come to mean the same thing, even as neither alone paints an accurate description of most works that they’re so commonly lobbed at. It’s probably more wise to study the composition of the scenes themselves rather than the stuff that they’re made of: the actual shots that make up The Wind Rises, as described in the script and composed by the storyboard artists and animators, are glorious in a thoughtful way that neither few Western audiences (or even Western anime fans) have the patience to observe, consider, or appreciate. If this were a film by any other director, no one in America would have stayed awake for it (assuming that they would have bothered to see it in the first place) and few anime fans would have looked up from whatever tween-incest comedy/”epic” action series they’re torrenting fansubs of to even notice it at all. That’s not to say that there aren’t an embarrassment of spectacular moments that demand attention, but those viewers expecting the aerial dogfights of Porco Rosso might find themselves wondering what the big deal is.
Cutting right to the chase, this is a weird movie. Structurally, it doesn’t follow the usual arc that filmmakers are taught to follow or the audiences are told to expect and value. The main character doesn’t develop or “change” in the way that viewers have been conditioned to respond to. The movie is rather long (2 hours and change) and often feels meandering in search of the conflicts and orgasmic resolutions that make up the plot of what a movie is “supposed” to do. We follow Jiro (Jiro Horikoshi, a real aircraft designer whose work in the 1930s and 1940s helped modernize the Japanese air force) through his childhood, into his college years and his first days on the job as an engineer, which takes him across the world and gives him an up-close view of many of the most important events of the first half of the 20th century. We glimpse his reoccurring dreams, watch him fall in love and struggle with the complexities of the turbulent world around him, which seem intent on taking his inspired vision of flight and applying it to violent and disastrous ends. From the beginning of the film, it’s clear that Jiro is a good person who values peace and fairness, yet he rarely deviates from his devotion to his projects or his lifelong goal to buck the system in any meaningful way. This may seem inconsistent or immoral to viewers who believe in superhero protagonists who always do the right thing and are never unsure of the difference between right and wrong or their ability and moral obligation to enforce such laws.
My impressions of the main character: a very kind, intelligent, slow to anger, patient man who sees the world as it is and is so focused on his goals that they’re all he really needs to be happy. This is the kind of person that I want to be. Unfortunately, it’s established very early on that this is who he has always been, that hard work is in his blood and that a perpetually clear and rational mind make up the central core of his identity. Neither primed for greatness or forced to overcome any tremendous adversity, Jiro has always been an extremely gifted person in a natural way that is simply out of reach for most of us. Could this be interpreted as a kind of objectivist parable? Who knows? Miyazaki’s admiration for Jiro surely stems from his love of flying (or vice versa?) and may also come out of a respect for dreamers or iconoclasts. It’s also clear that this kind of excellence is simply not within everyone’s reach, that the best most of us can do is to try to recognize others who may possess it and to do our best to enable them. Maybe that’s a horrible interpretation of the film’s message, one that I’m not even sure I completely agree with, although I’m sure I feel that way about some people, as do most of us, probably.
Don’t get me wrong, most of the film focuses on Jiro’s hard work and determination, which surely cultivated a sense of commitment and refusal to give up in the face of setbacks, which are hardly glossed over in the film’s portrayal of his creative process. Maybe that’s what I liked most about this film. Aside from an early dramatic scene depicting a disastrous earthquake, a lot of the movie just follows Jiro around. He spends a lot of time studying in school. He’s committed to excellence in his first job after college, despite being a low-level engineer with few major responsibilities. He’s driven by a narrow set of goals and little else. This is really inspiring to watch. It also feels like a totally alien experience to me. Is that because I’m a lazy person, or because I live in a world full of distractions — you’re reading one right now — and low expectations? I like to think that if I lived in a pre-Internet world free of electronic comforts or the mass media, maybe I could have parlayed my giften childhood into something useful as an adult. I mean, imagine growing up in a society where children soak up judo and aikido and are better at math than most American college students today. What if your nights were spent lying on the roof and gazing at the stars instead of staring at a screen? Again, this is not the point of the film at all, but I was really caught up in the simplicity of the world that it depicted and the purity of vision that it could inspire in people. Maybe this sounds like dangerously simple, idyllic Japanophile nonsense. Or maybe it isn’t.
As far as the English dub is concerned, I thought this was another excellent and respectful treatment from the folks at Disney and the cast they brought in. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and John Krasinski did amazing work and play it mellow when I suspect that most voice actors of the American anime industry would have hammed it up to an ear-piercing degree. As skeptical as I’ve always been of the apparent necessity to cast well-known actors for roles in animated films (regardless of whether or not they have any experience in the medium or even show a predilection for it at all), the dubbing of all the Ghibli films that I’ve seen in English over the years (usually in theaters, starting with Spirited Away in 2002 or 2003, whenever it made its way to the multiplex near my college) has never been disappointing for me. The Wind Rises continues this fairy-respectful and successful tradition. It might also be the end of it as we know it. Few of Ghibli’s non-Miyazaki films hold much commercial potential in the West: they’re either culturally-specific products of the country they were made in, or hold little appeal for children. We may have hoped that gradual box-office success in the West, coupled with high praise from critics or word-of-mouth, would slowly expand the distribution of Japanese animation into theaters. On the contrary, it’s possible that we may be seeing the end of this decade-plus experiment, which never quite pierced the consciousness of the average moviegoer, young or old.
This isn’t a proper review so much as a general and very personal reaction to the film, so I don’t know how useful it will be to you. It is absolutely a great movie, although it may not live up to the hype placed upon it. And how could it? For months now, the stories about Miyazaki’s retirement (which is probably final, let’s face it) have overshadowed the film itself. He’s definitely an artist worth celebrating, but his films deserve to stand on their own, too. If your only exposure to the world of Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli has been through one of their signature films — My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, to pick a few — The Wind Rises will definitely come as a revelation. But I don’t think anyone else needs convincing at this point. Well, most of America, but that goes without saying.
Kokoro Connect embodies a lot of anime tropes and cliches that I absolutely hate. That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t work with said cliches and do something creative with them, but I really don’t feel like it did or ever tried to. And I realize that that opinion is going to sound ridiculous to a lot of viewers because it has a pretty fantastic premise that’s anything but ordinary, at least compared to most high school-themed series of the last five or ten years. Despite that, I don’t think that it lived up to its potential. Are my expectations really fair? Is Kokoro Connect a “bad” series? Or is my reaction to it just a product of my own priorities and personal pet peeves?
I’d like to try keeping up a positive attitude more these days, so I’ll talk about what I liked about the series. It had a really interesting premise, some of the characters were likable, and the animation was bright and colorful and looked… well, pretty much like everything else these days. Okay, I think that’s all I have in me.
I can’t project motives onto its creators or know what their mindset was while writing the story, but as a former adolescent boy I think it’s interesting to speculate on. Heck, gender doesn’t have everything to do with it; everyone has experienced loneliness or alienation at some point in their lives, particularly in high school. Wanting to connect with others, trying to express your feelings or learning to navigate relationships are all matters that no one is particularly good at without a bit of practice first. Unfortunately, experiencing certain amounts of social disappointment is inevitable and some people will react better to it than others. You’ll either learn how to understand people, how to be a better listener, and how to appreciate people for who they are and not for what they could potentially do for you. Or you’ll feel entitled to other people’s approval or affection and quickly grow bitter over the dissonance in your life.
There’s a third path out there for anyone who wants to justify the perceived unfairness of the world, but it requires a lot of painful reflection that can never amount to anything beside grandiose daydreams. It requires a strong belief in oneself as a great guy — I believe this is a particularly male fantasy, feel free to disagree but hear me out first — and the conviction that fate or some unfair circumstances have intervened to prevent everyone else from seeing so. But what if you were thrown into some fantastic situation where people couldn’t ignore you, where the real you could shine and your peers would clearly see how wonderful you really are? Such begins Kokoro Connect, where a group of five students is beset upon by some supernatural force, causing them to randomly swap bodies for several hours a day. Of course, this necessitates a certain amount of intimate trust, but if you’re fantasizing about how to make friends, it’s a tantalizing idea.
Kokoro Connect was written by Sadanatsu Anda. I don’t know if Sadanatsu Anda is female or male. I can’t find a photo or any biographical information online, and the few anime database sites that attempt to offer any information at all list Anda’s gender as N/A. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, and I actually respect creative people who let their work speak for itself and would rather remain anonymous than participate in the popularity contest of the Internet. But so much of this story feels like an adolescent male fantasy, one that grows less and less subtle with every episode, that I have to wonder. Don’t be fooled by the prospect of an ensemble cast. Most of the plot flows through Taichi, our main protagonist, who’s commonly told that his most glaring character flaw is that he’s too selfless for his own good. I cannot say that I’ve ever felt that way about another person or could imagine what that might be like. Then again, there’s very little human interaction in this story that resembles real people or real life.
Taichi is not a loner or even a lovable loser. He seems to be quite popular, actually. But his strong desire to help others — more often experienced in adolescence as a desire to simply be needed than any kind of actual impulse to make sacrifices for others — is really getting him down. A familiar teacher enters the club room (!), visibly possessed by a being of a mischievous nature, who lays out the plot and all its rules for both the audience and the main characters. There’s little exploration of what swapping bodies with another person might actually be like. There’s plenty of raunchy humor and implied naughtiness. Everyone takes these events in stride because they don’t matter in any way other than to set Taichi up in one scenario after another where he “fixes” his friends’ problems with nothing more than the wisdom that comes out of being a totally selfless person. I guess.
Taichi’s friend Iori has a violent stepfather. Years of violence at home are suddenly solved by her friend’s intervention. His friend Himeko is revealed to be very distrustful of others and her reaction to the fantastic and terrifying events of the series are some of its only truly believable moments. Besides her cold demeanor, she’s actually the most likable character in the series. Taichi puts a stop to this by showing her the light. Yui was almost raped a few years ago and has developed a chronic case of androphobia (not PTSD, which is messy and complicated, but a fear of men, which is now an endearing and often hilarious character trait). Taichi shows her that she’s all worked up over nothing and that, even as a black belt in karate, she still doesn’t know The One Weird Trick that will stop any man in his tracks. Problem solved! His friend Yoshifumi doesn’t need help because he’s a guy. Girls are crazy! Am I right?
Maybe there’s potential for this to go somewhere, but the body-swap plot is dropped after a handful of episodes and replaced by other contrived scenarios that exist only to either humilate Yui, Iori and Himeko, or to “empower” them by turning them into hysterical nymphomaniacs. Maybe this is provocative stuff if you’re of a certain age and if it is, please enjoy every second of it that you can. I watch a lot of high school-themed anime but this is one of the first that made me feel like my inner 15 year-old was being pandered to in the least imaginative ways possible. Full disclosure: I actually enjoy exploring that zone a lot, maybe to the point of dangerous indulgence, but Kokoro Connect‘s deus ex machina plot, condescending attitude towards girls and generally insane interpersonal interactions (comprising a lot of writerspeak dialog, filled in by routine sexual harassment and physical violence that’s far too brutal to pass as mere slapstick and never really portrayed as such) constructed a world that left me disappointed after a handful of episodes and curiously numb by its end.
The final episode brings no resolution or explanation. Apparently there are four additional episodes (not on Hulu or Crunchyroll) that might bring about a proper conclusion to the story. Maybe they’re online somewhere but I don’t have plans to watch them. I’m sure they’re packed with more wacky hijinx, embarrassing misunderstandings and tearful confessions, which will continue to be rolled out with a kind of predictability that resembles a boilerplate shonen battle series in its approach to conflict and resolution.
A common criticism lobbed at many titles is the dreaded label of “wish-fulfillment fantasy.” I don’t know if that’s wrong or not, or if its cousin, the “power fantasy,” is really any worse. I definitely enjoy a lot of titles that would fit both of those pejorative descriptions. Here’s where I would try to justify my preferences, only I don’t know how seeing as I probably contradict myself when it comes to laying down rules about what the “right” or “wrong” ways to tell stories in a medium like this would be. But I’m definitely suspicious of any story that tries to oblige me in so many transparent ways. Kokoro Connect does little but oblige the viewer to an almost pornographic extent, particularly when Taichi is treated as a kind of viewer surrogate, which would make sense given how so much of its target audience will identify with him.
Ultimately, that’s something I cannot know and a claim I shouldn’t try to make. Then again, I read dozens of pages of Kokoro Connect discussion on MAL and it was very difficult to find anything other than overenthusiastic praise for it. I’m just very tired of this kind of series and these kind of characters and I feel like this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or at least made me feel jaded or cynical about modern anime in a way that I didn’t feel before I watched it. It seems inevitable that almost all anime fans will drop out of the hobby at one point or another. I’m pretty far past the point where this was supposed to happen and it seems unlikely to happen any time soon, but if it ever does, I feel like I’ll look back at my experience with this series as the beginning of the end.
It’s been a long time since I’ve actually written much here, let alone anything about anime. I don’t have a plan for this but I think I’ll just ramble about as many titles as I can remember watching over the last few years, or at least the ones that I never wrote anything about on here.
Guess I better clarify that this only goes for completed series and not any of the ongoing shonen epics that have been sucking up my life for months/years on end.
Action series following the exploits of an assassin with extraordinary senses and physical skills. The title character, a tetrachromat who possesses a variety of synesthestic traits, allowing her to sense people and perceive the intent of their actions in advance, is a pretty interesting starting point for a story. Sadly, this isn’t utilized very often in service of the story — even when it is, you’re left with the sense that they’re pretty much making it all up as they go along — or even to make the action scenes much more interesting than any other girls-with-guns series that I’ve ever watched. Admittedly, that’s not very many, but maybe that’s telling in itself. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we’d already seen this before. The animation was really well done, at times there were some imaginative effects, and there’s careful attention to detail of scenery as the characters travel the globe and battle it out in some pretty fantastic settings. This was not bad, but it wasn’t very memorable, either.
I tend to have a love/hate relationship with such blatant otaku-bait as this, but I also love socially awkward, dorky girls, so watching this was a no-brainer for me. I was apprehensive at first, because although I loved the first few episodes, I’d had a similar experience with Oreimo before it pulled a bait-and-switch after episode 3 or so. Thankfully WataMote never descends into such self-congratulatory nonsense and remains painfully cringeworthy from beginning to end, turning the wish-fulfillment fantasy of every other high school-themed anime of the 00’s on its head. Some viewers thought it went too far. Others thought it didn’t go far enough! Your milage may vary. Tomoko’s struggle to make friends, establish a charismatic identity for herself, stave off boredom and find a fulfilling outlet for her raging hormones results in failure after spectacular failure, her ignorance of social norms invoking our compassion and no small amount of sadistic schadenfreude. If this makes you uncomfortable, it’s a good sign that somewhere in your wretched soul, there’s still a sliver of humanity left that hasn’t been destroyed by shit like…
Guilty Crown (2011)
Absolutely one of the most derivative, pandering, manipulative series I’ve ever watched. Beautiful animation and exciting action sequences repeatedly build up a sense of promise that this is going somewhere special. Unfortunately, the story falls by the wayside time and time again for episodes that trot out and celebrate some of the most lazy cliches that have plagued anime for the past decade. Maybe if I’d watched this before Persona 4 (which aired a season or two after Guilty Crown), I’d be a little more lenient, but there’s no excuse for the depths that this willingly sinks to over and over again, or the way that fans mindlessly lapped it up without a second thought (the “beach episode” was bad enough, but how this actually happened without viewers storming the studio with torches and pitchforks, I cannot understand). Ripping off themes, tone, tropes and imagery from Evangelion, Code Geass and God knows what else, Guilty Crown copies and pastes lucrative archetypes onto an admittedly pretty canvas, confirming that viewers will gobble up anything as long as it’s emotionally cloying and thematically “epic” enough. Even the central protagonist, who I initially found very intriguing and empathetic, feels like a Gary Stu created to massage the deepest insecurities of its beta male fans. None of these are new complaints. What critics of the series don’t talk about is its constant, unceasing sexual objectification of its female characters, who are — I’m not making this up or exaggerating — treated as erotic objects or fantasy-fulfilling archetypes in literally every scene they appear in. Even when they’re portrayed as “strong” characters of their own agency, as they often are, they do so dressed in a series of fetish-appeasing outfits — school uniforms, swimsuits, rubberized (?) catsuits that fit their slender bodies several orders of magnitude tighter than Evangelion‘s plugsuits could ever compare to — which the camera lovingly lingers on, studying the nuances of impossibly-perfect adolescent anatomy in shot after uncomfortably long shot. They’re also sexually harassed and tied up in scenes that don’t exist for any reasons other than to lovingly linger on their helplessness and vulnerability in particularly nasty and demeaning ways (I suppose these scenes exist to anger and thus motivate our protagonist, the only character whose feelings or dignity is consistently considered in the slightest). There’s a certain kind of routine misogyny that’s all over TV these days, titillating viewers with the imminent thread of rape and sexualized murder, all the while masquerading as a condemnation of said act, and that kind of two-faced attitude about female (dis)empowerment is all over the place here. Even during their moments of independent action and free agency, the female characters are still dissected and ogled by the animators. Heck, the “Gainax bounce” is gleefully borrowed at will and features prominently in one of our heroine’s most dramatic scenes. I lap up fanservice as much as anyone else but the way it was handled here, not to mention to general incoherency of the plot, left an awful taste in my mouth and feels symptomatic of some kind of mental illness pervading the entire anime industry, to say nothing of the fandom that keeps it going.
Sword Art Online (2012)
.hack//Sign (admittedly, the only series in the .hack franchise that I’ve seen) was an often-frustrating series for me, as the plot took a relatively long time to really get going, and characters would repeatedly balk at the chance to interact and produce any kind of meaningful action that would affect any change in the story. But it had its heart in the right place and eventually hit its stride, and by the end, all of the main characters had achieved something that mattered. I mention the series because, justifiably or not, it’s the easiest comparison at hand for Sword Art Online, which begins with a similar premise about strangers meeting in the immersive virtual world of a futuristic MMORPG. The fast-moving plot quickly sucks the viewer into the story, which is immediately more satisfying and pleasing than that other series (which I’ll try not to mention from this point on). Our likable protagonists’ lack of faults or any kind of complexity is perfect for the narcissistic audience this was surely made for. The misogyny of the second half of this series is truly something to behold but you’ll probably be too busy wondering what the point of it all is to be bothered by it. This is never quite as manipulative or pandering as Guilty Crown but still deserves a hearty spanking for privileging style over substance and indulging in a lot of tired and creepy clichés. I can’t recommend this in good conscience but I’ll admit that I enjoyed it in the same way that I’d probably enjoy seeing all those summer blockbuster films that I slag without ever having actually watched.
Accel World (2012)
I couldn’t tell you a single interesting thing about this other than the fact that I really enjoyed it in spite of its reliance on a lot of shonen cliches. Or… did I like it because of those cliches? I don’t feel like I’m ready to work that out just yet. A lot of really pretty animation here, but still not as pretty as…
Space Dandy (2014)
Speaking of hype, few series in recent years have arrived to such great expectations as Space Dandy, which seemed to confuse and offend viewers expecting a more straightforward, plot-driven story without any distracting nonsense like humor or actual science fiction. This is every bit the masterpiece that everyone had hoped, but in none of the ways that anyone was sure to expect. Every episode here stands alongside the best stand-alone episodes of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo and even raises the bar when it comes to its outrageously imaginative storylines and daring visual style, which are never predictable, consistently hilarious, and unexpectedly heartwarming. Did the first episode rub everyone the wrong way? It would be a serious tragedy if we don’t appreciate these episodes or the NEW SEASON beginning in a few weeks. This is the best thing I’ve watched in at least 5 years and never failed to cheer me up from beginning to end. I don’t understand why this was panned as one of the year’s biggest disappointments, apparently. I mean, I can venture to guess but instead I’d rather just recommend it with my whole heart and hope that you give it a chance.
No attempt to write a convention report this year, this post only exists to note that yes, I went to Anime Central again this year.
We went to a couple of panels, watched some AMVs and walked around a lot. I wore new shoes and did my best not to step in anything with them.
Here’s some sushi. I couldn’t find my real camera so this was never going to be a decent photo.
Here’s a random photo of the hotel lobby, focused on nothing in particular at all.
I didn’t take pictures of any cosplayers, nor was I really compelled to this year. Sorry! Also, I bought almost nothing at all, save for this book.
It’s been roughly ten years to the day since my first convention, which was ACEN in 2004. Browsing some stranger’s photos online, in the vain hopes that I might spot myself in the background somewhere, I was expecting to notice a big difference in how much has changed, but on the contrary, it seems like very little has changed at all. I suppose this is reflective of my time at the convention yesterday. What once felt like a surreal and unique experience now feels comfortably familiar, not at all in a bad way, and while the popular cosplay of the year will always be different, something about the weekend feels frozen in time and eternally detached from everything else going on in the world and I don’t get the feeling that anything is changing here except for my age. I didn’t feel surprised this year. No, I don’t feel entitled to a totally novel experience every time out.
Kinda sorta planning on making a whole weekend out of it next year instead of the last-minute scrambling that barely fit the day in around our work on Friday-Saturday. ACEN 2015, here I come! Yeah right.