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Thoughts On Visual Culture

Category: blurbs

2013: Year in Review

This post will act as an index to the other posts.

Film

Drama

Anime

Music

2013: My Year in Anime

I already have posts for Hanasaku IrohaMy Little MonsterKimi ni TodokeTengen Toppa Gurren LagannHyoukaPsycho PassMysterious Girlfriend XClannadFlowers of EvilKaijiServant x ServiceUsagi DropKimi no Iru Machi, City HunterCream Lemon, Future DiaryPrincess KnightRurouni Kenshin, Space Brothers and Honey and Clover. You can click right on the names to take you to those writeups. So: what else did I watch, but didn’t write about? Let’s see! Read the rest of this entry »

Fall 2013 Impressions

I wrote some blurbs for the ani.me Fall 2013 anime roundup. I wrote about the following shows: Coppelion, Kyoukai no Kanata, Outbreak Company, Kill la Kill, Golden Time, Nagi no Asukara, Yowamushi Pedal, Non Non Biyori, My Mental Choices are Completely Interfering with my School Romantic Comedy, Galilei Donna and Samurai Flamenco. Click on the pictures to find my writing.

You can find it here.

kill la kill

Read the rest of this entry »

Blurbs: CLANNAD (2007)

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KyoAni adaptation of a Key visual novel; it’s par for the course for the studio that made Air and Kanon (the latter earned a grudging acceptance from me). A young delinquent, with a heart of gold, wastes away his senior year of high school. One day he bumps into a young woman named Nagisa and all of a sudden they’re changing each other’s lives.

As in Kanon, he meets other girls and he goes around listening to their problems, becoming their confidants, all the while pretending that he’s still a delinquent and not actually the most sensitive, understanding guy ever. At first, I thought I had a handle on what the structure would be. He meets one girl, learns her back story, and solves her emotional problems over the course of a few episodes (this structure, and it’s roots in erotic video games, made it hard for me to take Kanon all that seriously). For the first half of Clannad, that structure remains. But after a certain point, the strands combine, and instead of focusing solely on one character, the show juggles all the main characters at once, finally breaking free of that old tired formula. In Clannad’s latter half, the emotional high points are reached more organically, and don’t feel as manufactured or as crafted or constructed as they do when they’re treated as the lynchpins of an “arc.” In the latter half of the series (specifically post-Kotomi), the emotional scenes come off with a sense of discovery, not a sense of calculation (although that’s exactly what they are).

Clannad, on a pure plot level, is all about repressed traumas, broken families, unfulfilled dreams, unspoken emotions; our main character’s role in the show is about bringing those things out into the open. He’s the audience surrogate; we learn about the girls as he does. But even his role is complicated. At first, he is simply a conduit for our emotions. We wish to take care of Fuuko, or figure out why Kotomi freaked out. But, later on, he becomes a character in his own right, saddled with his own issues about trust, family, and forgiveness. And it is here that the show truly shines: slowly but surely Tomoya builds his own life for himself, outside of his shitty relationship with his dad, outside of his so-called delinquent status, something new that he has created. He has found people who can understand him – warts and all.

Note: None of which would’ve mattered at all if the music hadn’t been there to save the day. The series MVP, by far, is the soundtrack. It’s always there to paper over any scene that’s missing some pathos (tinkling piano keys, moody synthy orchestras, etc.) It’s been a while since I’ve seen so much of the emotional heavy lifting being done by the score (I have lots of pieces on constant replay right now). This is not to discount the grand command that Tatsuya Ishihara, the series director, has over the visual language of this particular kind of melodrama, only to suggest that it would’ve been hard to move me without these magnificent songs.

How To Find It

The series has been licensed by Sentai Filmworks and is avalable on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Clannad (2007)

22 episodes

Kyoto Animation

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Blurbs: HYOUKA (2012)

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Hyouka is another in a long line of Kyoto Animation shows that is impeccably animated, and reflects a certain storytelling sensibility that I always have to adjust to. It’s a slice of life series wherein nothing much happens. There’s a school club that meets after school everyday and we spend time hanging out and getting to know them.

But what sets Hyouka apart is the mystery aspect. You see, what the club actually spends most of its time doing is solving a series of painfully banal and strange little mysteries that pop up around them. Some of the mysteries stretch several episodes, but some are just one-offs. There are long stretches of the show where you sit at the table and listen to their theories about the mystery (this is livened up by incredibly beautiful cutaways to an “imagined” space that’s more interesting than their club room).

The longer arcs on the show also lead to pretty nuanced character development (think about Oreki’s development during the student film arc, or about Fukube’s doubts about himself in the school festival arc). The stories themselves are banal, almost matter of fact, but even though nothing too out of the ordinary, nothing fantastic, ever happens, Hyouka retains a mysterious, elusive quality. I would love to dismiss it as “nothing happens” nonsense (and sometimes I felt that way), but it stuck in my mind too much. Something wouldn’t let me get away. You can’t escape, as it were.

So although I’ve sort of complained about the fact that the mysteries and situations of Hyouka are banal to the point of you sort of asking “what is the point of this? why would anyone exert any intellect on trying to figure this dumb crap out?” I cannot dismiss it. And here’s where I lay out why I think this show is mysterious and elusive and actually kind of special: it’s a series that is filled with possibility. Not once during those 22 episodes did I have any idea what kind of show I was watching. It’s a show I felt could go anywhere, do anything; that it wasn’t tied down to a simple formula (although it may have been). Like Chitanda’s character, it possessed an intellectual curiosity (though in Chitanda’s case, it may have just been an instinctual one) which then got filtered through a deep knowledge of western mystery novels, slice of life tropes, moe checklists, beautifully detailed animation, etc. Hyouka is a series where the sensibility is key; the mixture of those elements could’ve turned out awful, but because they’re done in this particular way (slow, thoughtful, relaxed), they become more than the sum of their parts.

Again, it helps that it’s aesthetically perfect; sequences made me tear up just in the way they were conceived and executed (a complete mastery of high school slice of life tropes, and just plain beauty). The final sequence of the final episodes is a master class: the pinks, the swell of the strings in the soundtrack, the precise editing and the knowledge and wisdom to leave us facing an uncertain future. The future’s a mystery, too.

How to Find It

This show is not currently licensed in North America. You’ll have to search for other means.

Hyouka (2012)

22 episodes

Kyoto Animation

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Blurbs: TENGEN TOPPA GURREN LAGANN (2007)

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This is a bratty, hyper-active shounen mecha show about a group of humans using their spirit power or whatever to overcome any and all obstacles. The humans are forced to live underground thanks to some unknown force, but our young heroes manage to break out almost immediately, and not only that, form a sort of ragtag rebellion just in the first few episodes. The series’ strengths rely solely on making you turn off your brain and marvel at how badass everything is. It mostly works.

Imaishi brings his chaotic, energetic style (Dead Leaves) under control for most of it, but unleashes everything he has during the battle scenes. Compositions are frequently dynamic and aim to bring out the often ridiculously exhilarating nature of the mecha fights. In Gurren Lagann, nothing is subtle, and as such, its animation and composition follow suit. There is no logical progression to any of the battles. Everything is predetermined. Because our characters have “spirit,” whereas our villains don’t, everything is resolved thru yelling loudly and “feeling” things more than the opponent does. It isn’t a drawback of the series, though; it’s more like a philosophical viewpoint. Because to be human is to be reckless, emotional, ever-changing.

Had some other notes about the first few episodes being a secret remake of FLCL (with the drills, erections, boobs and teenage confusion), but it only extended to the first few episodes, so I didn’t bother thinking more about it. Although, as a Gainax show, it’s playing around with the mecha formula, but this time taking it to different, more operatic heights.

How to Find It

Aniplex of America currently has the license for this show, but it can be streamed through Crunchyroll.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2007)

27 episodes

Gainax

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Blurbs: PSYCHO-PASS (2012 – 2013)

In order for this blog not to die, I’ve decided to include shorter impressions. You can find these under the Blurbs tag.

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Sleek, dark, noiresque sci-fi about a future Japan where everyone’s crime potential is scanned by some infallible, impartial computer system (hint: it isn’t). Our protagonists are government agents who are tasked with implementing the system’s judgment (whether that means arresting someone whose “psycho-pass” level is too high, or killing those who are too far gone). We learn about all these characters and their ideals and their back stories (all of which seem to have been affected by this system). I appreciated that although there a few one-off episodes, all of it is more or less connected to the larger plot arc of the show.

The show’s protagonists are in love philosophizing their way through dialogue scenes, bringing up what’s implicit in the action of the show and then commenting on it at length (what is this, a Christopher Nolan movie?) Gen Urobuchi, the show’s writer, also seems to be in love with references; Shakespeare, Rousseau and Terayama are all name-checked at different points throughout the action. Granted, the references are not random, and actually help to illuminate what’s going in the show, but I just thought it was prevalent enough to mention it.

Psycho-Pass’ strengths ultimately is not its philosophical inquiry, but rather its portrayal of the maturation of its lead character from rookie to professional. It’s surprising that that’s what ends up the thing that I take away from the show, and not none of the free will, police state technology shenanigans. It might just mean that the show’s engagement is more shallow than it at first seems. However, this does not prevent the show from being massively entertaining.

How To Find It

The series is licensed by Funimation and can be streamed through their website.

Psycho-Pass  (2012 – 2013)

22 episodes

Production I.G.

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