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.


  1. How come anime shows are mainly associated with geeks and their ilk over here, when they seem so universal and part of the mainstream culture over there?

    Over here being Blighty, over there being Japan and that.

  2. Over here being Normandy, over there being the Cotswolds.

    Anime fans in the UK are big geeks. Some are vaguely sociable and savvy geeks, such as the geeks in our blog-circle, whilst some are scary and embarrassing - visiting the anime/manga section of Forbidden Planet usually fills me with some sort of violent, hateful fear.
    It's a sub-section of a sub-culture.
    The Xmen and Spiderman may be household names, but I wouldn't be surprised if the majority of those in the UK who watched the first movies had never read one of the comics. And then within the comicbook geek subculture of Britain, you have the anime fans.

    In Japan, manga comics have been a large part of the culture for decades. Some say that the American occupiers tried to get their culture across via the visual medium of comics to overcome the language barrier, which made comics or manga a central part of the culture post-war. You also have the fact that the Japanese language itself is very visual, where the letters are pictures and often represent something, however abstract. The mere act of writing is itself an art form, far moreso than Western calligraphy.

    Because manga has been so central to Japanese culture, it has endured, as rather than being seen as something for kids, manga are created to cover every theme, topic or genre you could think of. Therefore manga are read by both genders at all ages and at all levels of social standing - be it the cutesy magical girl tales stuffed with frilly dresses for little girls, or stories of pro golfers for the middle aged salaryman, there's something to cover all bases.
    The majority of books printed and purchased in Japan are manga, so the fact that it is mainstream isn't surprising. Over here we tend to get the stories that appeal to the already established comicbook geek market - that of the 13-35 year old male, so lots of action, sci-fi, horror etc. and the stuff distributed in the UK isn't exactly indicative of what is produced overall.

    Think of getting the tube in the morning, only instead of everyone reading the Metro everyone is reading comics.

  3. Hello sir
    Don't actually have much to say about anime, as I'm obviously not geeky enough in this respect, but I thought I'd get all facebooky/myspacey wall-to-wall on your ass and say hello back on your blog...somehow I'd never really had the curiosity to discover your blog thru Al's one, but now I have...I shall read your film stuff with interest...I note that in one of your previous posts you dreaded the idea of living in a town with only a big cineplex and a small indie cinema - sounds like Newcastle...though given that I only manage to make it to a film once every 3-4 weeks it doesn't matter too much. On the plus side, any kooky stuff that you review down in London will only be shown here in about a month's time, so I will be well versed already.

    Blogging is dead. Vive le blogging!

  4. Hello Duncan! Or should I reply on your blog?
    You were never geeky enough, don't you feel lacking? Taste my geek might!
    I guess Newcastle would suit the average cinemagoer, but I tend to see a couple of films a week. I haven't seen Pirates or Spidey 3 yet, if I do bother, but I doubt I could manage two films a week in Geordieville without viewing them.
    But you probably have different priorities than me, like a career and social life, whereas I choose to sit in dark rooms watching films.

    Fare well.

  5. When i was in Geordietown there was the Tyneside Cinema which was a little independant place with Mike Figgis as one of it's patrons.

    It was the place you went to see Chopper and Donnie Darko and junk like that...also sometimes films with subtitles!!

    It was good. I hope it's still there.