Following on from Lynn’s questions I am now answering a series of other questions from Beats Lars who is an insightful aniblogger with good taste. I don’t normally do these things but since the questions are all connected to anime and I love anime then that’s cool. He sent some question so I sent him some questions for him to answer in return. Here are my answers (warning, this is long and rambling):
- Favorite anime series.
Kino no Tabi. I had to think about this. For less than a minute. I watch a lot of anime but revisit few. I was addicted to Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evagelion when they first aired and bought CDs and DVDs but haven’t watched them in nearly a decade. Not so with Kino no Tabi. I watch it every so often. At thirteen episodes it’s easy to devour but I love it for more reasons than just that.
Kino’s Journey is a collection of stories, allegorical tales collected by the titular character Kino. Kino is a traveller, someone whose raison ‘detre is to journey across the world and experience things. Kino rides a motorbike named Hermes. They journey across a European-style continent and visit different countries. In each country Kino experiences different cultures and meets different people. Each experience Kino has is part of a larger examination of human nature and the resulting show can be dark, melancholy, and tragic but when it is hopeful and joyful those moments stand out all the more amidst the darkness. Kino is a singular protagonist who won me over so much that I consider Kino to be one of my favourite anime protagonists of all time.
It had a great emotional impact on me. It was a beautiful and intelligent show that delighted in playing with the viewer’s perception of life by crafting stories that initially seemed simple but turned out to be far more complex. When people dismiss adaptations of light novels I point out the fact that Kino no Tabi is based on one written by Keiichi Sigsawa and illustrated by Kouhaku Kuroboshi which I have started reading in the original Japanese (well, I started a few years ago). I also like to think it has something to do with its director Ryutaro Nakamura who loves crafting stories that challenge the audience (Serial Experiments Lain, Ghost Hound, anybody?). Here’s an AMV:
- Favorite director
Mamoru Oshii is a director whose name is synonymous with the animation studio Production I.G, having scripted, directed, and/or produced many titles there but he is also a manga artist and novelist.
His work strikes me as unique because it veers away from being formulaic and aims to be much more political and intellecutally engaged with big issues of the day. This makes his works much more troubling and complex and mature and for people who like to have weighty issues to chew on, it’s a godsend. Watch his films and you will see much in terms of philosophical dialogue centred on politics and existentialism all delivered in a film which, though dotted with tremendous action sequences and gun/tech porn, opt to go for a slow contemplative mood that veers into dark territory. If engaging in politics and philosophy with the intellectual arguments he presents, one can delight in the worlds he creates, the well-drawn and depicted realities of characters which we get to see in long dialogue-free sequences with nothing but music (typically provided by the composer Kenji Kawai) to accompany what we see.
There is nobody like him. I look at newer directors like Seiji Kishi and Tsutomu Mizushima, Mamoru Hosoda and I don’t see any of his qualities which is an indication of the difference in student life since Oshii was a bit of a lefty radical in his day with a healthy interest in foreign films. In contrast, most anime directors feel like otaku good for nothing but limp meta-comedies.
- Favorite animation studio
I’m going to cheat and put two studios which I judge every other studio by because their works consist of some of the most ground-breaking anime ever made, they have fostered the careers of great directors and their works are usually high-quality (plus I have reviews of a few):
Production I.G was the first anime studio I could name and it was thanks to Mamoru Oshii’s work. Here is some of their output that I have loved: Blood: The Last Vampire, Blood+, Ghost in the Shell, Psycho-Pass, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, Ghost Hound, The Sky Crawlers, Attack on Titan, Psycho-Pass.
Madhouse The former home of Satoshi Kon, the place where Yoshiaki Kawajiri cranked out great horror titles and some of the first anime I ever watched. The list of anime I like that comes from the studio is long: Black Lagoon, Dennou Coil, Death Parade, Death Billiards, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Gunslinger Girl, Perfect Blue, Paranoia Agent, Parasyte, Paprika, Ninja Scroll, Mouryo no Hako, Master Keaton, Mai Mai Miracle, The Tatami Galaxy, Wicked City, Wolf Children.
- Anime Episode that stood out to you as the most bizarre
Space Dandy Episode 9: Plants Are Living Things, Too, Baby
Not necessarily the most bizarre but the mot daringly strange one that I remember from recent times. Anime can be terribly formulaic so when I watched Space Dandy last year I enjoyed its variety of visual and aural styles. The biggest odd episode of Space Dandy was episode 9, a psychedelic where the gang took a trip to a planet of living plants full of different shaped multicoloured landscapes and sentient plant creatures with high-pitched voices. The story was created and directed by Eunyoung Choi, a disciple of Masaaki Yuasa and the two are big on surrealism and abstract art and it was no different here in a vivid and beautiful episode which managed to be a great sensory experience that feels like a dream while creating a touching story when you see the relationship develop between Dandy and his plant friend develop.
Thank you Space Dandy.
5 . Anime soundtrack that had the biggest impact on you.
I want to say JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure because the use of dubstep for a grand globe-spanning adventure that stretches from the Victorian period with super powered beautiful people who strike cool poses battle each other with crazy powers…
Patlabor 2: The Movie
I have been watching anime since I was a child but it wasn’t until high school that I became a bit of an otaku. The first soundtrack I ever bought was the UK release for Patlabor 2: The Movie and followed that up with a purchase of Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (which was quite a find). Patlabor 2: The Movie is one of the films I consider instrumental in making me a cinephile and it was one of the first anime that made me look at the medium as more than entertainment. I had watched lots of anime like Bubblegum Crisis, Vampire Princess Miyu, Robotech, Devilman, Moldiver, and Urusei Yatsura but none had a story as complex or art and world design which captured my imagination as much as Patlabor 2 and none had a soundtrack to match.
It consists of a series of themes that are built up over the course of the film as a complex political puzzle is unravelled.
The score’s orchestration is a mixture of ambient and electronic music accompanied by more traditional instruments like and haunting chanting. It stars with an upbeat electro-pop melody that is hopeful and relaxing before seguing into a deceptively relaxing symphonic musical experience that subtly adds more instrumentation to make themes the audience has already heard become profoundly darker.
The music will play as we get scenes of everyday life in Tokyo and characters discuss political issues and as the story evolves and martial law descends upon the city, the music changes. It’s perfect for a film which probes ideas of unjust peace and the uncertain position and role of the military in Japan and ultimately Japan’s uncertain position in the World. As much and fit each scene you can listen to the soundtrack by itself however the film is so strong, it’s hard no to remember the scenes each track accompanies.
It is composed by Kenji Kawai, a man probably best known for composing the soundtrack to Ghost in the Shell. He has had a long career in the entertainment industry, starting off dropping out of a music academy and creating a band to enter the music industry and then by composing music for commercials before moving on to composing scores for anime and movies. When I see Kenji Kawai’s name listed amongst the staff of an anime I am sold.
Watch the UK dub for Patlabor, it’s the best!
- What is one manga or novel that you’ve read that you would want an anime adaptation of. What studio would make it and director?
After last year’s CG anime Knights of Sidonia, the name Tsutomu Nihei is probably a lot more widely known beyond horror/SF fans. I hope they move on to other works of his lie Abara and Biomega because for me they are the superior titles. The work I’m going to choose is the six-volume manga Biomega by Tsutomi Nihei. Here’s an MMV which gives you a taste:
It is set in the future. Humanity achieved a colony on Mars but something went wrong and a deadly infection that turns people into zombies was brought back to Earth. I’m getting ahead of myself. The manga starts in media res with main protagonist Zouichi Kanoe riding towards the city of 9JO on a totally cool motorcycle with his AI companion Fuyu Kanoe. They are on a mission to procure humans with the ability to resist the infection which we learn more about mid-series. They discover the city is overrun with zombies and a shadowy agency and battle their way to their target…
That’s about as coherent as the plot gets because after volume one the crap hits the fans in a big way as multiple protagonists are thrown into an increasingly apocalyptic story that sees the future of humanity at stake. The story is told in a piece-meal way which was creepy even when the story became abstract and but what stands out is the art. Tsutomu Nihei is not that great at characterisation or plot but his art and character designs are stunning. With Biomega he crafted a world that is bleak, a mechanical cyberpunk nightmare where huge cyclopean buildings are located in blank, nay, blasted landscapes. Cities stretch off into the distance with threatening protrusions and massive pits dotted around and people live in these cramped and dirty nightmarish urban environments that are located in devastated and dying lands. It is visceral stuff.
If the world is harsh, the people in it reflect it in how badass they are. Plebians are turned into corrupted zombies or drones that are sickening to look at while the main protagonists and antagonists are a mixture of synthetic humans with super strength, gigantic human mutations with tentacles, and biomechanical cross-overs that tower over everything. Their strength and speed are indicated by the great character placement, speed lines, and the way the environment is affected. They all look totally damn cool. This is long enough so I’ll stop there.
I found the manga so good I chose it as a scary manga to read for Christmas (it’s a British tradition to read/hear/tell/watch scary stories).
The next bunch of answers will be shorter.
- The most disappointing series you’ve ever seen.
High School of the Dead. I went into it hoping for a Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead zombie story and what I got was a terrible example of how sexist anime could be. I wrote about the experience I had watching it years ago. My expectations were misplaced. I read the manga during some downtime in a uni lecture and knew that it was about ecchi but I was still disappointed.
If you want to see a good zombie story, read I Am a Hero which (until the hotsprings sequence and school girl kiss/CPR) has resisted all those creepy lolicon tropes and sexual objectification and presented a compelling and mature and scary story. I’m looking forward to the movie and the manga spin-off set in Osaka.
- Your favorite live action version of an anime series.
That’s easy, the Rurouni Kenshin live-action movies starring Takeru Sato and Emi Takei and directed by Keishi Ohtomo. There are three in the trilogy and I have had the pleasure of watching two in a cinema and waiting for the third.
Rurouni Kenshin has been given the glossy big screen treatment with a huge cast full of great actors all of whom are on sets that are so beautiful and detailed watching the film felt like being transported back in time. The action scenes are phenomenal and made me sit on the edge of my seat and grin like a child (always a good sign when it comes to me).
I have a review of the first Rurouni Kenshin film up already and a review of the second one is in the draft queue.
- If there would be one anime to introduce someone to the genre what would it be?
Spirited Away. I consider it Miyazaki’s best film to date. Spoilers in the AMV.
I think it contains the right amounts of darkness and fantasy to engage a wide audience as it strikes a balance between the joyful and strange and the downright terrifying. The magical journey that central protagonist Chihiro engages upon is a huge one but remains heartfelt and intimate thanks to how well-drawn she is as a character. She starts off as a somewhat selfish and sullen character who is numb to her parent’s constant attention and oblivious to their needs and when they are turned into pigs and she is forced to fend for herself we witness her grow as a person through a series of thrilling encounters at the haunted bath house she has to work in. In believable fashion she learns how to be kinder and far more caring and also toughens up as she meets different characters on her adventure.
The animation is top drawer, which is what we expect from Studio Ghibli, but the details in the world are incredible as we see the spirit world come to life and the many areas of the bath house and its surroundings. There is also a typically huge cast full of humans, spirits and more and they are all wonderfully designed.
- Name one anime feature length film that had the most impact on you and why.
Patlabor 2: The Movie
This was the first anime movie which had a complex plot and narrative that made me think about the wider world at large. It was also stylistically different from the first Patlabor film which made me want to research different animation techniques and film and, alongside Chungking Express, made me want to become a cinephile.
As part of the challenge I have to review the first episode of Honey & Clover. That will be posted tomorrow! Thanks for reading.