Cool Old Anime: GoShogun The Time Etranger

It’s hard to find old anime that’ll appeal to younger fans. I’m not talking about anime from the early 2000s or 90s. I’m talking mid-80s, when I didn’t even exist yet. We’re lucky to live in an era where companies like Discotek and Crunchyroll are making older anime more available for our viewing pleasure, but the big question remains: where do I start? If you’re looking for an anime that’s obscure, old, and unique, might I recommend GoShogun: The Time Etranger, released in the US under the name Time Stranger?

Time Stranger seems like an oddball choice to recommend, given that 1) it’s out-of-print currently (though copies of the Central Park Media release aren’t hard to find as of the time of this writing) and 2) it’s a sequel to a TV series that never got an English release. Last I checked, there aren’t even fan translations of the GoShogun series, but feel free to correct me on that. However, aside from a GoShogun model toy making an early cameo appearance, there’s no direct indication that this is a sequel to a mecha anime. To the uninitiated viewer, the characters could have been a part of any military organization and it just so happens they’re living in a future with hovering cars. Also, one of the guys is a giant blue man, but that never bothers anyone. Thankfully, knowledge of Goshogun isn’t necessary to understand the story as Remy is fleshed out wonderfully as a character.

The story begins with Remy Shimada, a woman in her 70s, getting into a car crash after a badass chase scene and winding up in a coma. Her friends from her GoShogun years come to see her, but the doctor tells them that she has a 5 percent chance of living due to the severity of the crash and other medical complications she was hiding prior to the crash. Even after pulling all the strings they can to save her, she’s given 2 days to live. In her comatose state, Remy fights in a mysterious city where escape is impossible and everyone is trying to kill her. She’s given a letter telling her she has two days to live. All Remy has is her determination, her revolver, and her friends.

Remy is actually experiencing two dreams. The main dream takes place in a city 40 years ago, which looks like it could take place in the Middle East given the mosque-like structure in the middle of the city the denizens pray to daily. The other dream is a flashback to Remy’s childhood in France. She lost her mom when she was young and became a street urchin. Kids would harass her but she would fight back, proving that even as a little kid, Remy was still the coolest.

Remy is the best

The film never explicitly indicates how much of what we see in Remy’s comatose state is her actual memory and how much is just her dreaming, but it’s for the better. Not explaining adds to the surrealness of the situation and allows the central metaphor of fighting death. When I first saw this film, I was reminded of Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress, another film about a woman experiencing flashbacks to her past at the end of her life. Like Millennium Actress, memory and dreams mingle to the point they’re indistinguishable While not as visually ambitious as Millennium Actress, the same idea about how our memories define our lives is why I love Time Stranger. Remy remembers the two points in her life where she felt like she would die, but she managed to find the determination to escape death. Overcoming impossible odds through sheer determination is an old anime cliche, but few anime show an old woman fighting the giant demonic panther that’s the personification of fate with a single bullet and knocking over her own grave at the same time. That’s much more inspirational to me than Goku yelling until he’s strong enough to destroy a planet.

On a side-note, it’s rare to see any anime, today or in the past, invoke Islamic imagery in any way. The words “Islam” and “Muslim” are never explicitly used, but it’s clear what’s being invoked on-screen. They’re a generalized force of fate and order, a surreal religious army inside Remy’s head. For most of the film, the civilians are blank gray-skinned mobs trying to kill Remy and her comrades, like zombies in an apocalyptic world. As far as representations of Islam go, it’s not particularly kind, and if this movie were made today with criticism of media depictions of Muslims being more common, it might be seen as dehumanizing. However, if you take it as a metaphor for religion in general and how it can be seen as fatalistic, it works just fine. Still, watching this movie today made me realize that depictions of Islam in both Western and Japanese media are limited.

The animation is nothing special, and the art is pretty typical for the era; pleasant enough to look at, gets the job done. Some of the sequences are really neat and tasteful, like when Remy has a vision of herself being torn apart, she transforms into a bloody-red outline that falls apart. Remy’s face in the present-day is also never fully-shown, and the film does this by obscuring it with sunglasses or a breathing mask, or by utilizing some first-person perspective. You always get the sense that you’re on her side, not viewing from the outside but from within, even she’s awake in the present. It’s one of the many ways Time Stranger gets you to empathize with her.

At its core, Time Stranger is the story of one woman finding a reason to live when everyone’s telling her it’s her time to die. It just so happens to be the sequel to an old mecha TV series without the mecha, and it’s great. It’s an obscure gem of a film, and those with an interest in 80s anime that’s not Akira or Studio Ghibli should check it out.

Mad Max and Imperator Furiosa: The Future of Action Duos

Mad Max Fury Road premiered in theaters this week, and critics are already hailing it as the action movie masterpiece of the decade. I can’t help but agree with them. The 4th Mad Max easily triumphs over other contemporary action films due to its distinctive look and feel. Most of the stunts are practical with a few CGI touchups, the film smoothly transitions from chase scene to chase scene, and the characters have an immense depth behind their ridiculous names and limited dialogue. Much has been made of the film’s feminist themes. The film unsubtly reminds us that women “are not things” and the climactic scene involves the two heroes, Max and Furiosa, teaming up with an all-woman motorcycle gang called the Vulvani to fight back against Immortan Joe and his War Boys, the apocalyptic patriarchy. Go see this film if you haven’t yet, it’s an amazing treat and the rare nerdy action movie that I’d seriously want to see win Oscars. After seeing it, come back and read this.

There’s one scene at the end of the film that stood out to me not for its amazing stunts or creative design, but for how quietly it bucks a Hollywood trend that’s always annoyed me. A dying Furiosa is saved by Max performing an emergency blood transfusion. After an entire movie of throwing people off cars and fighting the ghosts he could not save, Max saves a life. But that’s not what made the scene bold in my mind. What made it bold was that in other Hollywood action films, this would have been the kissing scene. Other action movies feel it necessary to give the male and female lead of a movie romantic chemistry, because it’s expected that when two leads of the opposite sex spend a significant time together, a romance together. I was worried it would go down that route when Max holds Furiosa close and tells her his name for the first time, but shortly after it fades to black and we’re at the Citadel, with Furiosa standing triumphant as the woman that took down (the patriarchy) Immortan Joe. I appreciated how the filmmakers didn’t cave into the expectation that these two needed to a romantic item. Rather, they’re two broken people in a broken world that respect each other.

Max and Furiosa make for a great team, though they don’t know it yet. They meet each other by circumstance; they’re both escaping from Immortan Joe, but Furiosa is the one with a specific destination in mind. Action movies like The Avengers often contrive situations for their heroes to fight each other before they team up. It’s an easy way to build tension, but the artificiality of it can be distracting. In the case of Max and Furiosa, it makes sense that they wouldn’t trust each other at first and try to kill each other. They live in a world where mercy gets one killed, and Furiosa can’t afford to jeopardize her mission to save the wives of Immortan Joe. Max is also not a great negotiator. He mostly just grunts and speaks in single words, hinting at just how mad he is. This half-man, half-animal doesn’t get along with others, and neither does the one-armed matriarchal Furiosa.

Yet as the film goes on, one gets the sense that these two are very similar despite coming from different societies. Both have lost an important family member, and are driven not only by the need to survive, but to be redeemed. Both are strong fighters, but have emotional and physical weaknesses, which make for compelling heroes. Actions speak louder than words, and their harsh stares and grunts have more character than a billion Joss Whedon quips.

This brings us to that pivotal scene where Max and Furiosa defy the expectations of Hollywood romance. Firstly, the film already had a decent romance in the form of redeemed war boy Nux and the red-haired and aptly-named Capable, so to have another developing romance would have been going overboard. Secondly, Furiosa and Max don’t see each other as sexual partners, but as comrades. It’s why the kiss scene in last year’s Edge of Tomorrow, the main reason I was worried about them sharing a kiss at the end, didn’t work for me. There’s nothing wrong with two heroes developing romantic feelings for each other, but so many movies do it that feels more like an obligation than a natural part of the story. The main relationship of Edge of Tomorrow is of a mentor and student who become soldiers of equal strength. That kiss feels tacked on to an otherwise engaging male-female relationship that never felt all that romantic.  Mad Max Fury Road is proof that movies don’t need to romantically pair leads if they have different genitals. The small moments like Max giving up his sniper rifle to Furiosa and using himself as a stable platform for her are more powerful than a tacked-on kiss. And honestly, with so many movies about two dudes kicking ass and never kissing, do we really need to be reminded how much culture favors heterosexuality?

Mad Max Fury Road deserves all the praise for its action and stuntwork, but beneath the skull-adorned hood, there’s a beating human heart. Rarely do action movies make you care for characters who speak so little this much. Future action filmmakers should be looking at how director George Miller makes combining feminist humanism with flamethrower-guitars and granny bikers look so easy.

Hearts and Minds: Empathy, War, and the Problem of Us vs. Them

What I value most about history and film, my two favorite subjects in the world, is their ability to generate empathy. There’s a great Roger Ebert quote from the documentary Life Itself that comes to mind: “… for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.” Films and history can give voices to the voiceless and expose different sides of the dominant voice. On the flip side, films and history can reinforce false narratives to keep the voiceless oppressed and the dominant voice unchallenged. Films as recent as Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper reinforce the narrative of the savage enemy and the heroic American who puts them down. American Sniper was the second-highest grossing R-rated film ever, so clearly there was a demand for it, and those demanding it voiced their racist opinions about Arabs after seeing the film. It’s propaganda fanning the flames of nationalism and racism. However, film’s empathy-generating power can counter propaganda. Hearts and Minds is one of those essential examples of counter-propaganda.

Hearts and Minds is a Vietnam War documentary that depicts Vietnamese victims of war, the soldiers that bombed and poisoned them, the politicians and generals that told them to do so, and the American people’s attitude towards the war. The Vietnam War is remembered as America’s first real loss in a war, when people bother to remember it. Hearts and Minds shows in an interview with Captain Randy Floyd, a pilot whom ran 98 bombing missions in Vietnam, asking him what we’ve learned from Vietnam, he says “I think we’re trying not to.” 1974 was the year before the Vietnam War was truly over, and folks were already trying to unlearn everything they learned.

Some of those who chose to remember tried to justify their actions in Vietnam. One could take the side of Lt. George Coker, an American POW who appears in the film speaking at several conventions about his experiences as a POW and his views on patriotism. Several times Coker says things like “I was what you made to be.” He says this in front of young Catholic students and elderly women. He unflinchingly uses the word “gook” to describe the Vietnamese. He dehumanizes not only the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong, but also the South Vietnamese by calling all Vietnamese backwards. This attitude comes directly from the top. General William Westmoreland tells director Peter Davis “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.” This scene is juxtaposed with a gut-wrenching Vietnamese funeral for a man most likely killed by American bombs or napalm. Hearts and Minds takes the side of the Vietnamese as victims of a foreign invasion, but in order to do so effectively it must document those invaders. We must understand the oppressors if we want to work against oppression, but not excuse them.

It’s important to note that in depicting Vietnam as a victim, Hearts and Minds also avoids infantilizing the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese knew what was happening when American soldiers sprayed poison and napalm to destroy their crops and jungles. The South Vietnamese government was complicit in these actions because they benefited from the corporations and power America gave them. American companies like Ford, Coca-Cola, and Bank of America were setting up shop in capitalist South Vietnam. There’s a scene featuring the political leaders of Saigon having a lavish dinner party in a country club telling crude jokes about women. One of the leaders asks them to stop so they don’t look ridiculous in front of the camera. If there’s a flaw in Hearts and Minds, it’s the depiction of the North Vietnamese Army. That is to say they’re barely featured in the film. It’s understandable that Peter Davis would have an easier time filming in America and South Vietnam, but it would have been nice if the film could have presented a more complete picture of Vietnam. What Davis captured of Vietnam is still impressive and helps to understand the mindset of the South Vietnamese contrasted with the Vietnamese refugees. It demystifies Vietnam as the “Oriental” Other that General Westmoreland saw them as.

We justify acts of atrocity all the time as heroic or necessary. We had to accept Vietnam as a loss, but many refused to see the war as wrong. Ronald Reagan tried to justify the war with this speech in 1980 at a Veterans convention: “It is time we recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause.  A small country newly free from colonial rule sought our help in establishing self-rule and the means of self-defense against a totalitarian neighbor bent on conquest.  We dishonor the memory of 50,000 young Americans who died in that cause when we give way to feelings of guilt as if we were doing something shameful, and we have been shabby in our treatment of those who returned.  They fought as well and as bravely as any Americans have ever fought in any war.  They deserve our gratitude, our respect, and our continuing concern.” Note the language used. Vietnam was “newly free from colonial rule” and “sought our help… against a totalitarian neighbor bent on conquest.” This is the same rhetoric used by America to today to justify wars in the Middle East. We coat our ignorance of foreign affairs in the language of a savior of the weak. However, Vietnam was not “free from colonial rule.” The Vietnamese refugees saw Americans as colonists. The only difference between the French and Americans was the language they spoke and the companies they built.

I believe in respecting veterans, but I also believe in criticizing our involvement in war. I believe it is necessary to understand both sides of the conflict. We must not paint these narratives as black-and-white us vs. them politics. That leads to dangerous propaganda like American Sniper, which fuels hatred of Arabs and Muslims by depicting American murder of them as heroic. This kind of narrative not only affects movies, it affects video games as well. One of the writers on Battlefield Hardline recently said “I wrote one about this guy getting back together with his ex-girlfriend. Someone on the team pointed out that ‘hey idiot, this is someone you are about to shoot in the head, not deliver flowers to,’ so we decided, let’s not go down that route. We had to cut out the dialog and make it more informative. We had to make sure the bad guys felt like bad guys so the player isn’t as emotionally conflicted about the gameplay.” This is an admittance of removing empathy from the narrative, because empathy would make it less enjoyable for the player to murder people. To get back to Vietnam, think of how the Best Picture winner The Deer Hunter portrays the Vietcong. The Vietcong are depicted as sadists that enjoy forcing American POWs to play Russian roulette. The film is willing to show Americans as complex and empathetic, but unwilling to extend that same empathy to the Vietnamese.

We must take care in how we portray all sides in any conflict. Not all sides are equally valid, of course. Modern hate groups like GamerGate should never be given the same legitimacy as the women they harass. Understanding does not excuse atrocities, but it can help us deal with atrocities. Films like Hearts and Minds resist the simplicity of the black-and-white narrative that we are spoon-fed in films like American Sniper. Whether you’ve studied the history of Vietnam in-depth or not, Hearts and Minds is a must-see. It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen, and appeals to my desire for empathy.

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #12: Yo (K)anno

Whoops, almost forgot to put up my last 12 days of anime post. I wasn’t planning on doing this series this year, so forgive the rushed nature of these posts. I enjoyed writing about my experiences with anime this year, and if I’m still blogging about anime next year, I’ll definitely do this again, hopefully with more focus and preparation.

Shirobako, like many other shows this fall season, was a pleasant surprise. PA Works has a reputation as being another Kyoto Animation in my eyes: they typically make good-looking stuff but it’s all moe fluff with nothing else to hold my interest. Shirobako is still pretty moe, starting off with a high school girl club with aspirations of creating their own anime movie, but does a good job of transitioning into a more realistic adult world of office work and stress. I’ve heard some fans of the show claim the workplace drama is “too real” for them. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s too real, as the show cushions job stress with good humor and some fluffy optimism, but it’s certainly more honest about the real world than most moe anime I’ve seen.

The last two episodes of Shirobako’s first cour, centered around Christmas time, were standout episodes highlighting the growth of main character Miyamori and the tensions between the young and old generations of animators. One of Shirobako’s major themes is the uncertainty about the future. The young generation worries about whether or not they can make a stable career out of their new jobs in animation, and the old generation worries about the direction of where anime is going. The show strikes a nice balance between the young generation learning from their elders while still figuring out who they are for themselves, and that is exemplified when Miyamori tries to get acclaimed director “Mitsuaki Kanno” to draw some key animation for the final episode of the show Exodus.

Boy, he sure looks familiar.

Boy, he sure looks familiar.

Turns out “Kanno” is actually an homage to Hideaki Anno, director of Neon Genesis Evangelion. He only gets one scene in this episode, but it one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen this year and a definite treat for anime fans. Normally I don’t like to praise reference humor since it’s usually really cheap, but here it’s in service of furthering the plot and ideas of Shirobako, plus it’s funny more because of how into anime “Kanno” is than the fact that we know he’s referencing Nausicaa. Miyamori admits her knowledge of older anime isn’t that great, having only seen the Rebuilds of “Ava” and never seeing the original series, but her passion for anime is definitely real when “Kanno” brings up Andes Chucky, a kid’s anime she’d seen in reruns.

Since I’m a young adult still figuring out what he wants to do with the rest of his life and an anime fan interested in the industry and culture, Shirobako strikes a good chord with me. As much as I think the earlier episodes leaned too heavily in the optimistic direction, I would think about my future after watching a few episodes. Shirobako balances nerdy passion and dreadful realism. Though it does favor optimism, it never lets itself stray too far into it. Since the show is willing to address actual problems with starting a career, I think it’s allowed to be optimistic. I think Shirobako‘s ultimate goal is encouraging young people to not give up on their dreams, but trying to be a little more realistic about it than other inspirational dramas. 2014 was a depressing year, so Shirobako was a good pick-me-up.

Here’s to hoping that 2015 is another good year for anime. With more JoJo’s and Ikuhara’s lesbian bears, there’s no way it can be bad, right?

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #11: Snow is a Heavy Blanket

I liken Mushi-shi to a warm blanket. It’s the kind of show I turn on when I want to be in a meditative mood. In this age of digital streaming and Twitter, it’s easy to fall into the trap of live-tweeting while watching a show. It’s fun to do, but can distract from the mood of a show, and Mushi-shi is at its most effective in a dimly-lit room with all distractions removed. You need to let the emotion of the show take you in completely to get the most out of it. Mushi-shi is not bombastic, action-packed, or comedic like a lot of other anime from this year that I love, but it serves as a nice counterpoint to shows like that. The second season of Mushi-shi has many stellar episodes that put me in a good mood, but one of my favorite episodes is a little chillier, yet all the more warm for it.

This blanket is anything but warm.

This blanket is anything but warm.

“Beneath the Snow” is the third episode of Mushi-shi‘s second season. Each episode of Mushi-shi acts as its own complete story, centering around someone inflicted by a mushi, a supernatural creature with many forms and abilities. Beyond the mushi and Ginko, a mushi-shi or “mushi doctor”, each episode is standalone with a different cast of characters and different conflict. The victim of “Beneath the Snow” is Toki, who has been possessed by a Tokoyukimushi, a type of mushi that consumes the warmth of its host and causes permanent snowfall. Ginko warns Toki that if he is unable to get warm, he’ll lose his limbs to frostbite, but Toki ignores his advice because the cold doesn’t bother him.

What makes for a great episode of Mushi-shi is not the fantastical nature of the mushi, but the human emotion in the metaphor the mushi represent. Often, the real problems characters face are not caused by mushi, merely exagerrated by them. What Toki suffers from most of all is the grief of losing his sister and being unable to move past it. It’s startlingly real in the face of the supernatural elements, but this is one of Mushi-shi‘s greatest strengths. His inability to feel anything and his avoidance of warmth, even the warmth of human touch, reflects his emotional state of being. He’s locked in a state of self-destruction. The story is about exorcising personal demons and coming back to the world of living. The beautiful and deadly stillness of snow is a perfect setting for such a story. Snow is harsh and cold, but it makes the emotional journey all the more heartwarming when Toki regains his ability to feel in the end.

This is an episode for those who love stories of overcoming despair. Stories like Madoka Magica and Wolf’s Rain are near-and-dear to my heart for similar reasons. “Beneath the Snow’s” setting even makes it a great companion piece to Wolf’s Rain if you’re in the mood for great anime in wintery locations. Not many episodes of Mushi-shi‘s second season actually take place in winter and it aired in spring and fall of this year, but I can’t help but associate it with winter because of the show’s opening theme, “Shiver” by Lucy Rose. With its quiet folk tune and icy imagery, it just screams winter. While I may not live in a snowy climate, to me Mushi-shi seems like the perfect show to watch when its cold outside and you want to feel warm. Wrap yourself in a hot blanket, drink hot chocolate, turn off all distractions, watch some Mushi-shi and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into a different realm. After the episode is over, the feelings still linger, as if you too have been possessed by a mushi.

Bonus cute Ginko in a scarf.

Bonus cute Ginko in a scarf.

 

 

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #10: The Gift of Midosuji

There were a lot of sports anime this year with strong fanbases. Haikyuu was fun and I can’t wait for a second season, Free came back for some more manservice camp with a good dose of angst, and Ping Pong brought us the deliciously weird Yuasa flavor that we love. It was such a good year for sports anime that it’s easy to forget that Yowapeda also aired. I’m still watching the show in its second season, but it suffers from Dragonball Z pacing. It’s less of a show about cycling and more of a homoerotic melodrama on wheels, but hey, no one actually watches sports anime for the sports!

I could talk more about Haikyuu, Free, or Ping Pong, but today I want to talk about Yowapeda for one reason: Akira Midosuji, one of my new favorite villains in anime. Why do I like him so much?

midosuji HOLY FUCK

JUST

midosuji SHOCK

LOOK

midosuji WATERMELON

AT

Midosuji pelvic thrust

HIM!

midosuji XENOMORPH

Yowapeda won’t be winning any awards for storytelling, but it’s easy to see the appeal of the show: all the characters are just so weird, and Midosuji with his alien-like behavior and movement is easily king of the weirdos. The sounds he makes as he moves are like a bunch of parasite aliens about to burst through his skin. At a certain point, I realized I was watching the show just to see what weird thing Midosuji was going to do next. Rarely do I watch a show as long as Yowapeda for so simple a reason, yet Midosuji was too enticing to ignore. God bless you Midosuji for giving me a folder of great weird images.

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #9: Tokyo Needs More Gay

I don’t have many strong feelings regarding Tokyo Ghoul. I started watching it in October, but only recently finished it despite it being only 12 episodes. Chalk that up to there being a lot of other good shows I was watching and me not being invested in Tokyo Ghoul’s story. It’s rushed and does little to distinguish itself from other recent cannibal monster anime like Attack on Titan and Parasyte. I’ll probably check out the second season if only to see how they follow up the non-ending of season 1, but my expectations are low. So why am I talking about a show I mostly have middling feelings toward? Because of this guy.

shuu crazy

Shuu Tsukiyama is the first major villain in Tokyo Ghoul. His primary motivation is to eat Ken Kaneki, the main character, because he smells good. He’s more of a monster-of-the-week who does little to further the plot, but I couldn’t get him out of my head. Because I absolutely hate this character and everything he represents. His characterization harkens back to the gay-coding of Classic Hollywood. Characters couldn’t be explicitly homosexual under the Hays Code, so filmmakers had to be creative and find ways to imply a character was homosexual. However, this was problematic because these implied-to-be-gay characters were depicted as villainously perverse or inferior because of their homosexual and effeminate behavior. These films created and encouraged negative gay stereotypes despite never once explicitly talking about homosexuality. It may be 2014, but these stereotypes persist, even outside of the Hollywood system.

In the short amount of time he matters, Shuu exemplifies these old gay stereotypes to an uncomfortable level. He takes an uncomfortable interest with Kaneki the moment he meets him, prompting Touka to call him gross. In another scene, he snorts a handkerchief with Kaneki’s blood on it. Tokyo Ghoul goes out of its way to portray this as creepy villainous behavior, as if to say “this guy has the hots for another guy and that’s totally fucked up!” As a bisexual man, I can’t help but be appalled that this character was ever allowed to exist. Tokyo Ghoul, with its story about lost souls trying to live in a world that hates and fears them, could have been a great showcase for gay characters. The metaphor of fear and acceptance is right there, yet Tokyo Ghoul unironically and uncritically falls back on gay stereotypes to characterize a major villain. It’s a huge disappointment. Well, at least he’s the only horrible gay stereotype in this show, right?

Goddammit.

Goddammit.

Next post: something more positive.

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #8: Terror of No Resonance

So Space Dandy was easily one of my favorite anime of the year. It had its ups and downs, but the ups were extremely high and the downs were still rather good compared to most other anime. Shinichiro Watanabe had yet to make a bad show as far as I was concerned, so when Terror in Resonance was announced for the summer, of course I was hyped. Everyone was hyped. The show had high production values, music by Yoko Kanno, and had the potential for a strong politically-charged message. So what did we get? “These are no ordinary terrorists. These terrorists have something to say!”

JemEricHeadbang

Maybe it’s because as a American who’s spent most of his life living in a post-9/11 world, but if you’re going to have a show be about terrorism, I expect it to say more than just “terrorists have something to say!” Because all terrorists have something to say. In fact, the entire point of terrorism is to use extreme measures to get a message across. 9 and 12, the boring teenage genius protagonists of Terror in Resonance, are no different from other terrorists. The show wants to be critical of Japanese society’s treatment of children, but all it gives us is a cliche child experiment plot with no actual critical analysis to speak of. 9 and 12 are not interesting or developed characters. The show goes out of its way to make them as moe as possible and refuses to give them any darkness or humanity. They blow up buildings and airplanes, but no one gets hurt or killed! 12 falls in love with a girl who’s there just to be kidnapped a lot. The show introduces American villains to give us more reason to root for 9 and 12. The show ends with 9 and 12 being gunned down by Americans just so we can feel sad. Terror in Resonance is more concerned with us liking its protagonists than it is with giving us anything to critically think about. By having the Americans act as villains, the show shoots itself in the foot. It does what many post-World War II Japanese movies and TV shows have done: shift the blame to the American government, not the nationalist Japanese government.

The growing nationalist sentiment in the Japanese government has been terrifying. This year, we got two different anime with the potential to criticize the nationalist movement, but ultimately they both backed down from saying anything truly critical. The Wind Rises originally was going to end with Jiro’s death and with more remorse for his involvement in World War II, but was changed to a happier ending with him living. Terror in Resonance might have been more effective had it cut out the Americans entirely and focused more on the Japanese government’s involvement in 9 and 12’s development, but ultimately holds off saying anything that would piss them off. As a result, Terror in Resonance is limp and ineffectual.

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #7: Sword AIDS Online

If you can recall, my first post on this blog was about Sword Art Online and its treatment of female characters. Spoilers: it’s not good. For as much as I hated the Fairy Dance arc, it was bad enough that I was compelled to watch it all, and then watched the next season, Sword Art Online II. To my surprise, Sword Art Online II was a huge improvement! Okay, it’s not actually GOOD because the characters still revolve around the cardboard male-power fantasy that is Kirito, but it was much more entertaining, it tried to give its female characters their own story arcs, and there was less sexual assault! Okay, it’s not that much better, but if you’re seeking bad soapy trash to hatewatch, Sword Art Online II is good for just that.

Sword Art Online II was split into three arcs: Gun Gale Online (the best arc of SAO in my opinion), Excalibur (a three-episode interlude that is mostly just screwing around with Kirito’s harem), and Mother’s Rosario, the only arc where Kirito is not the main character! I was really sick of Kirito, so to see Asuna, a character that’s been largely portrayed as a helpless waifu since Fairy Dance, have her own story was an exciting idea. So of course, her conflict ends up being kind of lame (her mom doesn’t approve of her playing video games oh noooooo). The main character ends up being Yuuki, probably the only girl to ever beat Kirito in a duel (though there’s a bullshit implication that Kirito went easy on her, because we can’t have our tough male badass lose to a girl fairly). Yuuki wants to beat a boss so she and her guild, the Sleeping Knights, can have their names carved into a rock. The stakes aren’t nearly as high as previous arcs until it’s revealed why the Sleeping Knights want their names immortalized in virtual reality so badly: they’re all terminal. Specifically, Yuuki has AIDS.

Oh, and not only does Yuuki have AIDS, her entire family is dead and she’s been confined to a hospital room for almost her entire life, and her only means of communication with the outside world are VRMMOs. The piling of “sad moe girl” tropes, all in one episode by the way, was so comical in its execution that I knew that I had to write about it for 12 Days of Anime. Sword Art Online has always been a soap opera for male nerds in the same vein that Clannad is. They create male leads that nerds can pretend to be like and give them baby fantasy girls for them to fix and protect. The difference is that Sword Art Online pretends to be an action show, and in its final arc swaps out its male lead for a female lead. Having a girl protagonist could have made for an interesting subversion, but Asuna is much more passive than Kirito, and Kirito is still used to solve a lot of the problems she faces. The conclusion of Sword Art Online II has her saying she’ll be with Kirito forever, proving that the entire point of Asuna’s existence is to be Kirito’s girlfriend and nothing more. Basically, the author of Sword Art Online cannot write women.

Asuna sure is a STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER!

Asuna sure is a STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER!

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #6: Fate/Please Stay Good

For the longest time, Type-Moon was a mystery to me. I would hear fans talk about Fate/Stay Night, a lady King Arthur, and some other in-jokes I would not get at all until recently. The problem with Type-Moon is that to an outsider, its material was daunting. The works of Kinoko Nasu form a weird universe of different stories akin to Marvel comics, and the fandom is very similar to comic book fans. Obsessed with worldbuilding, sequels and spin-offs, and eager to explain every banal detail of their fan knowledge, I was never too keen on experiencing anything from Type-Moon’s catalog. That is until Fate/Zero got an anime adaptation a few years ago, and the world of the Fate franchise was opened to me. It was the rare prequel that was good and could be appreciated by established fans and newcomers alike. I’m still obsessed with the characters Rider and Waver, who made for an adorable odd couple with Rider’s unwavering dream of conquest and Waver’s journey of self-discovery.

Given that Fate/Zero was a success, it was inevitable that another Fate anime would be made, and of course it would be Fate/Stay Night, the original story that Fate/Zero was created to lead into. Yet I dreaded this adaptation. Having experienced the visual novel earlier this year thanks to a stream some of my friends hosted, I thought the show was going to suck, because honestly the visual novel sucks. Bad prose, terrible inner monologues, toxic misogyny, and terrible pacing made the visual novel unbearable. It was clear to me that Gen Urobuchi, who wrote Fate/Zero, was a much better writer than Kinoko Nasu. Nasu’s universe of Holy Grail Wars and Heroic Spirits is a neat concept, but he was not the best choice to execute those ideas, and certainly not in visual novel form. Fate/Stay Night isn’t even very good at being a visual novel, with there being very few player choices and only three different routes. Wouldn’t it be cooler if there was a different route where a different master wins every time? Wouldn’t it be better if there weren’t any terrible comedy vignettes based around Fujimura?

Rin SAY WHAT

Turns out ufotable knows how to turn shit into gold, as so far Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works has been one of the best anime I’ve seen this year. The story hasn’t been significantly altered, but the change in format and the changes to the plot have fixed the story. The biggest issue, Shirou, has been fixed. In the VN, he was an insufferable protagonist because the player is forced to read through his redundant inner monologues about every single detail in any given scene. Worse, he framed everything in gender-essentialist terms, reducing all the women in the cast to their gender and telling King Arthur herself that she should be more feminine. None of Shirou’s sexism is in the anime, and he is immensely more likable for it. The anime also benefits from having gorgeously animated fight scenes in place of the VN’s hilariously cheap flashes of light.

I’ve grown more attached to the story of Fate/Stay Night than I expected to. I’m currently playing through the visual novel just so I can more thoroughly compare it with the anime, and everything the VN does, the anime does better. However, I continue to be nervous about some upcoming events in the anime. In the VN, there’s scene involving Saber, dresses, and sexual torture and I really do not like it. They’ve avoided the sexism of the VN by removing unnecessary dialogue, but some scenes in the VN are inherently sexist for the actions committed by certain characters not named Shirou.

I have faith in ufotable though, and I’m actively rooting for Fate/Stay Night to remain good. I think I may be a Fate fan now. Right now I’m planning to check out the Garden of Sinners movies, based on light novels written by Nasu, and there’s a cornucopia of Fate spin-offs that have not been adapted into anime that I’d like to see in that format. I’m not so blinded by fandom that I’m willing to try the magical girl spin-off or overlook how problematic Nasu’s writing is, but he’s created an interesting universe with some cool ideas that I’d love to see explored. I can’t help but love the idea of Alexander the Great and other historical and mythological figures duking it out for the Holy Grail. Urobuchi was able to use his talented voice to turn those ideas into gold. If other writers, like the ones at ufotable, can do the same, I’ll be sure to check out more Fate for awhile.