Twelve Days of Anime #9: Watching Anime With My Sister…And My Cat?

kyo kara maoh

My younger sister and I have always fought with each other…over everything. When we were little kids, while we watched a lot of the same TV shows and got obsessed with the same trends, we invariably had different opinions about them. For example: Even though she played drums and I play bass, we could never start a band, because our musical tastes were too divergent. She liked pop (especially J-pop); I liked classic rock. We were like oil and water on every topic, except for anime and video games (usually of the Japanese variety). Those were the places we could bond: Fullmetal Alchemist, Pokemon, and Animal Crossing.

So when I got back into anime two years ago, this was a huge relief for us. Finally, we had something we both liked we could talk about again! The problem is, the more I get into anime, the more my sister and I find reason to fight over it, because our tastes are so different.

My sister’s opinions on anime are a lot more… “fangirl?” than mine are. Her favorites are popular anime-fan favorites, at least for anime fans who started watching in the mid-00s. She keeps up on long-running shonen anime like Naruto, while I don’t (although I do mean to check out Hunter x Hunter like everyone keeps telling me). She prefers FMA Brotherhood to the 2003 anime, and you all know how I feel about that. She falls firmly on the “subs” line of that classic fan debate while I’m more ambivalent, which resulted in a big argument between us last time we both stayed with our parents. (It was over Digimon, of all things.) I’m sure she’d probably have some choice words for me and my snooty, artsy-fartsy tastes and opinions, too.

We do have some common ground, though. One of the main things is that we’re both diehard fujoshi, so something BL-flavored is a good bet for us both to enjoy. So when she got the old out-of-print DVDs of Kyo Kara Maoh for Christmas last year, we marathoned it every night after our parents went to sleep. We still ended up disagreeing—on which dude the protagonist should be with from his shonen-ai harem—but it was in good fun, and we bonded a lot while watching the show.

Yuuri belongs with CONRAD. Isn't it obvious?

Yuuri belongs with CONRAD. Isn’t it obvious?

Kyo Kara Maoh is the story of Yuuri Shibuya, a baseball-obsessed Japanese teenager who falls through a toilet (yes, really!) and finds himself in a medieval European fantasy kingdom. He learns it’s called the Demon Kingdom and he’s its new king, and now he’s suddenly surrounded with pretty boys accompanying him on adventures and diplomatic challenges. It’s a weird, bloated light-novel adaptation, full of filler arcs combined with more substantial plot and character development. Running 78 episodes in total, it’s probably best experienced in marathon-form, skimming through the filler at breakneck speed with another fujoshi seated next to you. I wouldn’t recommend it if you aren’t a fan of BL or of reverse harems (Kyo Kara Maoh feels like a parody of certain notable examples of the latter, like Fushigi Yuugi), but if you are, it’s great slumber-party fare.

And we weren’t even the only ones who liked it. My cat Casey spent 10 straight minutes during one episode staring at the TV. He never does this! But Kyo Kara Maoh drew him in, I guess. I think his favorite character was Gwendal.

He also has a crush on our Christmas tree skirt, though, so I'm not sure what Casey's opinion is worth.

He also has a crush on our Christmas tree skirt, though, so I’m not sure what Casey’s opinion is worth.

My sister’s engagement with anime is a big part of my own. It was the degree of her obsession as a teenager that turned me off it for a while. Now it’s become a way for us to connect as adults, even if we often disagree. I value her opinion enough to ask her what she thinks whenever I finish an older series. Having friends with wildly different tastes who still understand yours is a valuable experience when you spend your life thinking about and discussing media. For me, that friend is my sister.

Advertisements

Twelve Days of Anime #8: Ikuhara’s Kitty-Cats In Love

For one of my earlier 12 Days posts, I talked about Sailor Moon, my issues with Crystal and why I think the franchise has diminishing returns in 2014. So as a fan of the franchise who’s spent a lot of time with it this year, I wanted to dedicate another post to something I really loved about it. Namely, one of the highlights of my re-watch of the original series this year, made possible by Viz’s re-licensing of the series and streaming all the episodes on Hulu.

rhett butler cat

The “Rainbow Crystals” arc, starring Zoisite as main villain and featuring the Senshi and Tuxedo Mask squaring off with him to find the mysterious Silver Crystal, is one of the highlights of the first season of Sailor Moon. Each of the “rainbow crystals” that, when combined, makes up the Silver Crystal, is hidden in a normal person who has obtained special powers from it. Each of these people gets their own backstory that resonates with the Senshi and their story (one is a love interest for Ami, one for Makoto—but they’re not all boyfriend material, I swear!) It was entirely anime-original, and it provided ample room for the talented creators on its staff to play around and show off their original voices, so it’s one of the places I go to when extolling the virtues of the Sailor Moon anime to newbies. And one of its best episodes was directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, of Revolutionary Girl Utena and Penguindrum fame.

In this episode, “Loved and Chased: Luna’s Worst Day Ever,” the Crystal-bearer isn’t actually a person, but a huge fat cat named Rhett Butler. He’s in love with Luna, and rescues her when she’s chased by a horde of alley cats. It’s kind of fitting that this would be an Ikuhara-directed episode, since his original work likes to blur the lines between humans and animals/objects, and their roles (see: Nanami as a cow). I’m not sure if it was his creative choice to put a cat in a human role, but it definitely fits. A good chunk of the episode is the characters taking forever to realize this, as they chase after his owner, thinking she’s the Crystal bearer. When they figure out it’s her cat, she completely disappears from the story, Rhett Butler taking center stage.

There are a lot of weird, surreal set pieces in here, another Ikuhara staple. The original Sailor Moon anime gets trippy on the visuals a lot of the time, but there’s a noticeable uptick in episodes with Ikuhara at the helm. Here’s an example:

trippy kitties

One of my favorite sequences is this episode is when Zoisite chases Luna and Rhett Butler through the sewers under Tokyo. After complaining repeatedly about how dirty he’s getting (Zoisite, you fop, I love you), he founds out the fuzzy things he’s pressing against are (really cute) sewer rats, and he shrieks as they surround him. It’s not just because I adore Zoisite that I love that scene. It’s the sort of silly physical comedy that Utena used so well with Nanami in the curry episode, so another great shape of things to come.

sewer rats zoisite

The trouble with tribbles…

I could go on talking about how it relates to some of Ikuhara’s later work, as that’s a lot of the fun of dissecting his early Sailor Moon episodes. (Ikuhara would go on to oversee the second half of Sailor Moon’s R season and the whole of the S season, where the comparisons become more palpable.) Yet this episode is such a wild ride on its own. The episodic nature of a lot of Sailor Moon’s “filler” arcs gave the creators room to flesh out characters by focusing on one each and putting her in a new situation. And “Luna’s Worst Day Ever” tells us a lot about its title character, how as sage of a mentor to Usagi as she is, she’s kind of defenseless and fearful on her own. How she’s stoic and poised but easily-flattered. It also has a lot of fun with Rei, who gets mad at the other Senshi for attacking the transformed Rhett Butler because of how they’re interrupting his and Luna’s “moment.” As brusque as she can be, Rei has a big heart deep down, one that BELIEVES IN KITTY-CAT LOVE.

Really, that’s the Ikuhara sensibility best personified by this and other of his early Sailor Moon episodes: Over-the-top theatrics and humor combined with strong character moments and symbolism. It’s what made his future works masterpieces, and what makes Sailor Moon so much fun.

rei how could you ruin