Monday, May 28, 2007
A sweeping generalisation
Each season dozens of new anime shows are broadcast in Japan.
A handful of these are chosen by the various fansub groups for translation, and are released for download over the net. A further proportion of these titles are then picked up by the anime distribution companies, and then another fraction are picked for UK distribution, meaning that the majority of titles never see the light of day here.
It’s true to say that this filtering process does do the job of filtering the wheat from the chaff, but a lot of great series are never picked up and even those that make it can often take years to reach our island.
For the moment the fansub community offers the best opportunity to catch series that you might otherwise never see in translated form, and as ever this season has offered up a smattering of shows that peak the interest.
Darker than Black is set in the near future, where shadowy government operatives called contractors use their psychic powers to do whatever it is shady agents do, and adopts a straight-faced more realistic tone akin to that found in the acclaimed Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. After a couple of episodes it’s hard to say if this is worth sticking with, but it certainly is ‘dark’.
Denno Coil is also set in the near-future, where cyberspace is integrated into the real world via hi-tech goggles and holographic pets are the norm, but the tone is completely opposite to Darker than Black, focusing on the experiences of a young girl who has to move to a new city and meets a young cyber-detective investigating illegal programs living in hidden cyberspace. The show reminds me of My Neighbour Totoro, with its cutesy animals and the tumbling, giggling little sister to protagonist Yasako, who shouts “poop!” at everything. Despite the initially simplistic style, Denno Coil sports some sophisticated animation.
Claymore is set in the favoured anime backdrop of a generic medieval world of swords and sorcery. In this case, the Claymores are half woman-half demon warriors who travel from town to town, answering requests to despatch demons, or Yoma, who disguise themselves as people in order to have ready access to their favourite food – human guts. The set-up is initially clichéd, but the story quickly picks up the pace and by episode 8 has turned into a shocking and gripping show.
Lots of bloody violence which crucially comes second to the character development.
El Cazador de la Bruja also treads familiar ground, dealing as it does with bounty hunters, and that old “children who have escaped from labs with uncharted special powers and who are on the run from secret organisations” chestnut. In this case the setting is Mexico and our kind hearted bounty hunter forms a female double-team with the escaped super-child. There are flashes between the action as our girls outsmart/fight their pursuers, and the wider plot as we see who we assume to be the man in charge of the super-child programme do his secret organisation thing. It’s totally generic and unlikely to go anywhere particularly interesting, but is polished with a fair amount of charm that keeps it worth watching.
My favourite of the season, though, is yet another entry in the well-worn category of High School rom-com.
Lovely Complex stars the unlikely duo of Otani and Risa, a short boy and tall girl who are unlucky in love, thanks, it seems, to their height, and end up hanging around each other, constantly bickering as their friends pair up around them. They both have a lot in common and it’s clear from the off that these two are meant to be together, but it’s a rocky road.
Lovely Complex manages to mix the comedy well with the drama. You do care about the characters, particularly Risa who realises first that she and Otani could be an item, which is no easy task when the jokes are so prominent. With lots of exaggeration of expression, physical comedy and misunderstanding, Lovely Complex is genuinely funny and highlights the popularity of this genre in the West. Whilst a number of comedy shows mercilessly lampoon popular culture, it is hard to get a lot of the jokes when said culture is unfamiliar. On the other hand the various situations related to love in high school are familiar to most people; the unrequited love, love triangles and the squirming attempts to ask your dream boy/girl out are things that many more people can identify with than Ultraman parodies.
Even though you can barely breathe for anime high-school romcoms, Lovely Complex stands out for me as one of the better examples, and indeed a decent show in its own right.
I would have loved to include a clip from the show as animation is unsurprisingly key in anime, but the only thing available on Youtube at the moment are snippets of the live action version of the show, chocked to the brim with some of the worst acting that you could ever hope to avoid.