Downtime in the Next Few Days

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Hey everybody, long time no see! Ani-Gamers will likely experience some downtime in the coming days as I switch us from Blogger to A Small Orange hosting. There's more news to come in regards to the blog itself, but I'll let that slip as soon as we're all set up on our new server. Don't you worry your pretty little heads, though: our domain name will remain anigamers.com, as always. See you on the other side, and keep your eye on our Twitter and Facebook feeds for news on when the site is back up!

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Otakon 2011: Japan's Apocalyptic Imagination Panel Report

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“Japan's Apocalyptic Imagination in Anime, Manga and Art,” a panel at Otakon 2011, featured essayist and Japanamerica author Roland Kelts, who offered examples of apocalyptic imagery in Japanese art and pop culture, put them into historical and cultural perspectives, and analyzed them. While the focus of his examples was definitely anime films, Kelts went as far back as Katsushika Hokusai's famous woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa (pictured right) to show how apocalyptic imagery is nothing new to the island nation’s creative focus.

The Great Wave..., published between 1830 and 1833, depicts a large wave immediately threatening boats off the shore of Kanagawa Prefecture. While almost 50% of the frame is taken up by the wave, its ominous nature can actually be attributed to how tiny Mt. Fuji, a symbol of Japanese pride and culture, is by comparison. Another threatening aspect noted by Kelts is the crest of the wave, which seems lined with "clawing fingers." Hokusai, according to Kelts, has often been referred to as a precursor or gateway to modern manga. And with that smooth transition, together with the statement that anime and manga have always been at least in part a response to catastrophes (which I’ll explain a little further down), the discussion shifted to the God of Manga, Osamu Tezuka.

Kelts specifically noted Astro Boy, which emerged after World War II, and pointed out how the story uses radiation as an aspect of creation rather than destruction. This "boy born of radiation" shows a faith in the same technology (or along the lines thereof) that delivered such a crushing blow to life not even a decade earlier. Along the same lines, Kelts offered up a similar method of thinking regarding the resurrection of the Japanese battleship Yamato, which was the pride of the country’s naval fleet as one of its most technologically advanced WWII warships. After its defeat, the Yamato came back to life via fiction as a technologically superior spaceship ("Take THAT, America!"). In addition to Kelts also mentioned the birth of mecha as means to fight the disillusionment with current technology. In all instances, destructive new technology didn’t bring about fear in art but rather promise as well as hope that what has been survived can be learned from and built upon to become stronger.

Next Kelts focused on two anime film directors, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and their specific works. Perhaps to take advantage of Ponyo’s immediacy, Kelts pointed to this Miyazaki film as a shining example of the portrayal of natural disasters and Japanese natives’ reactions to them. Kelts focused specifically on the scene where personified waves of a storm are reaching up and over the road with cars, which are trying to escape. Kelts said that this portrayal is not a malicious one but rather a dangerous fact of life. He said that the eyes in the waves had a sort of aimless, "staring into space" aspect that relayed the same sense of natural innocence as another one of Miyazaki’s creations, Totoro.

Kelts pointed out one scene in particular from My Neighbor Totoro built on a couple of images meant to evoke memories of the Japanese people who went through WWII. In this particular scene, characters in mismatched clothes watch as a man drives off into the countryside in a jalopy. According to Kelts, this scene was one that took place in many homes during WWII as those types of cars were simply what were available and clothing supplies were scarce. In all, Kelts concluded that since Miyazaki’s family was one of relative privilege and could afford to escape the paths of destruction, that personal history is what colors his work.

This contrasts Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, which is tied to the notion of not being able to escape and having to deal with the event as well as its aftereffects. Most of the movie, after all, centers around trying to define and etch out an existence after an American firebombing raid consumes life as the children had known it. Kelts said the differing vantages between directors makes sense given the fact that Takahata’s family was of lesser means and could not afford to escape.

After a few more specific examples of the panel, an audience member asked if there was a difference in how man-made and natural disasters are depicted. Kelts postulated that manmade disasters serve as an analogy to the evil that resides within all of us. He noted that even historical apocalyptic depictions spare specific countries any finger pointing. Instead the focus of most anime that deals with man-made apocalyptic scenarios open with disasters instead of trying to prevent them (as with the majority of Western media). This further demonstrates the themes of coping with and overcoming ourselves. Natural disasters, said Kelts, are portrayed as indirect, non-intentional ... just a part of life that’s meant to be dealt with and overcome. A rather pertinent question from the audience — as to if there has ever been any backlash to the depiction of such tragedies — reaped a rather funny, rather thoughtful response from Kelts, who said that there have been none to his knowledge but that the popularity of moé might just be that ... another means of escape from economic or climate-based disasters or both.


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Review: Hoshi o Ou Kodomo – Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below (Sub)

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Hoshi o Ou Kodomo: Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below

Medium: Anime Film
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Studio: CoMix Wave, Inc.
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Romance
Distributor: Media Factory (JP)
Release Dates: May 7, 2011 (JP), July 30, 2011 (US)
Age Rating: Not Rated (contains gun and sword fights, but minimal bloody violence)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Makoto Shinkai is the Green Day of anime.

I used to make this half-joking comparison between the newcomer anime director and '90s punk revival band since both of them make "the same great song over and over." But little did I know that Shinkai's newest film would fulfill the other part of the Green Day prophecy: the moment they stop making the same song, everybody gets angry that they stopped.

Hoshi o Ou Kodomo (localized as the comically verbose subtitle, "Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below") is just that moment — Shinkai's American Idiot if you will. It is a distinct break from his typical teen angst stories and a foray into magical action-adventure. The transition isn't too smooth, either for viewers or the director himself, but Children — the fourth film in Shinkai's catalog — is still a beautiful work, and one that hopefully heralds a new period in his career.

12-year-old Asuna is living alone with her workaholic mother following her father's untimely death, but despite a healthy school life she spends most of her time up on the nearby mountain, listening to whatever radio signals she can pick out on her crude ham radio. However, a dangerous run-in with a giant monster in the woods results in a friendship with a mysterious boy named Shun. Thus begins Asuna's adventure into the ruined underground world of Agartha.

You might already be sensing a bit of an influence here, and no, you're not mistaken. Makoto Shinkai has openly expressed his admiration for the works of Studio Ghilbi, particularly Laputa (Castle in the Sky), which made a big impression on him when he saw it as a boy. And while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Shinkai — almost certainly accidentally — leaves the realm of homage and heads straight into the no-man's land of full-on copying. Oh look, there's the Forest King from Princess Mononoke, the cave shelter from Grave of the Fireflies, the fox-squirrel from Nausicaa, the architectural style of Castle in the Sky!

A Quetzalcoatl, one of the enigmatic gods that rule Agartha

Shinkai's touch is definitely there, and one need only pay attention to the director's masterful use of watercolor-esque lighting and color to understand that this is not straight-up imitation, but I still feel like there's a little bit too much Miyazaki and not enough Shinkai in the film. His trademark brooding, silent moments are still there, but they are interspersed with action scenes and fast-paced plot developments.

And boy oh boy, those action scenes! I was sure surprised to find that a director whose last outing was characterized by long stretches of waiting silently on a train can create such lightning-fast, exciting action sequences. The film's moments of gunfire and hand-to-hand combat have a sort of whipping speed and kineticism that I've seen only in some of the best action anime directors (and of course, Mr. Miyazaki). Shinkai claims his team studied both Ghilbi movies and the Rurouni Kenshin anime in order to figure out how to animate the scenes.

Children hits all the emotional points that you might expect from the director of Voices of a Distant Star, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and 5 Centimeters Per Second, but one too many deus ex machinas and a few too many different set pieces bog down the pacing to what feels like a crawl. Shinkai has got to learn to edit if he's going to attempt another movie in this vein.

Shun's brother Shin, whom Asuna meets partway through the story

But let's make this clear: I would love for Shinkai to try another movie like this. It's a distinct break from his previous work, and while it's more of a so-so Ghilbi film than a great Shinkai film, it is enough of a proof of concept to hook me for the rest of his work. As long as he learns from his mistakes and doesn't get stuck in the rut of re-making this exact movie over and over, this director could really go places. He's got emotional expression down better than basically anybody else in the business, and now has proven his mettle in the realm of action scenes. A little bit more editorial oversight will probably do wonders for honing his style.

Is he still the Green Day of anime? Yeah, probably. Is he "the next Miyazaki?" That still remains to be seen, but Children is certainly a fine down payment towards the title.

[Recommended]



This review is based on the Otakon 2011 premiere screening. The reviewer was given a complimentary press pass for the convention.


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Otakon 2011: Touhou Panel Report

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Touhou cosplayers after the panel

Let me be blunt: I am a massive fan of the Touhou series of vertical-scrolling shoot-em-up games, and all the fan-works that surround it. It would take an entire another article to explain the sheer breadth of the phenomenon — for a primer/overview check out the piece I wrote for Evan Krell’s “Ancient Technology is Always Superior“ Magazine.

Being a giant fan I jumped at the chance to attend a panel that explored the series, and as the program guide pegged the panel as being “accessible no matter what your familiarity with Touhou”, I dragged my friend Gerry along with me to see how the panel would be for someone who knew next-to-nothing about the franchise. So how did we fare, the utter newbie and the jaded fan?

First, a logistical item: The panel was originally scheduled for 9AM Friday, but when Friday rolled around the panel vanished from the Otakon Guidebook app and moved to 2:30PM Sunday due to panelist availability. It’s great that staff were able to move the panel instead of canceling it outright, although this led to the new, smaller panel room being packed out.

The panel was headed up by five separate hosts, and was sadly a victim of the “too many cooks spoil the broth” adage as the panelists would often stumble during transitions from one part of the panel to another, asking each other what came next in the program. A lack of tight forward planning was made apparent around 20 minutes into the panel when an impromptu Q&A was called with the inviting phrase “Just ask something, to fill time”.

The actual content presented in the panel was well chosen, if marred by one instance of bad judgment. This included both the original Touhou games and some of the more famous fan-made games that use the series as a basis, all of which worked flawlessly on the projector screens. Seeing an average player, a rank newbie, and then a frighteningly skilled player each play one of the games in turn was a good idea and entertaining for everyone in the room. Commentary on the games shown while in progress was insightful, but demanded some familiarity with the franchise to understand. More basic background information on the games and aspects of fandom would have been helpful to make the subject more approachable for total newbies. In particular a greater mention of the Touhou music scene would have been very welcome, as this was relegated to a few offhand mentions.

The one instance of critically bad judgment came halfway through when one of the panelists showed an example of the many fan made doujins the series has spawned. This particular example was called “Miss Yukari, Please put on some clothes!” and was primarily about a small subset of characters getting buck naked and having mundane adventures while strategically placed word bubbles and sound effects covered their naughty bits. Frankly, this was a terrible choice of material to present and soured me on the panel. If you have to yell “It’s safe for work!” at a bemused crowd then something has gone very wrong.

The Q&A session at the end of the panel was surprisingly insightful — half of the questions asked were memes that were quickly dispatched by the panelists and the other half were very pertinent comments such as how to legally purchase Touhou goods, and the best starting point if you are interested in playing the games themselves.

At the end of the day, the panel was a success as it did persuade my friend Gerry to try out one of the games in the series. One thing that could be improved in future instances of the panel would be to provide a more comprehensive initial introduction to introduce the franchise and its self-contained world to people. Another aspect that would certainly help would be a stronger connecting narrative to guide the viewer from one item to another.


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Otakon 2011: VIZ Media Industry Panel in Pictures

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After a short delay from the preceding Tiger & Bunny panel, Amy Martin, the person in charge of VIZ Media’s social media accounts, started off the panel by cheerfully announcing VIZ’s 25th anniversary as well as a new website with which to celebrate the milestone. In addition to various other social media aspects, Martin proceeded to announce available and forthcoming manga, novel, and anime titles. The slideshow above is 99% of what was revealed. After the break, there’s a text breakdown of everything that appears in the pictures along with info on a couple slides that were not pictured.

  • 25th Anniversary
    www.viz.com/25years
    Promotions on iTunes end August 23, 2011
  • October premiere of Naruto Shippuden – Bonds movie
  • VIZ Manga app is now available for iPad™, iPhone™, iPod™ touch.
  • www.vizmanga.com
    “Now you can finally read your favorite manga on your computer...legally!”
    Buy once and transport across platforms/devices
    First chapter is always free
    Simultaneous print and digital releases
  • Future Releases (Manga)
    Oishinbo
    Naruto to see quicker release schedule (volumes 36-45)
    Ai Ore (volume 2) – August 2011
    The Story of Saiunkoku (volume 4) – August 2011
  • New Fiction
    ICO: Castle in the Mist (paperback), by Miyuki Miyabe – August 2011
    Book of Heroes (new edition, paperback), by Miyuki Miyabe – August 2011
    Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights (hardcover), by Ryu Miysuse – November 15, 2011
  • 2-in-1:
    Tenjho Tenge “Full Contact” edition (18+) – Available now
  • 3-in-1 Editions (Omnibus) Kekkashi
    Fullmetal Alchemist
    Bleach
    Naruto
  • Art Books
    The Art of Vampire Night – September 6, 2011
    D. Grey Man – Features interview with creator
    One Piece: Color Walk 2 – November 1, 2011
  • VIZ Kids Box Sets
    Pokemon Diamond and Pearl Adventure! (volumes 1-8), October 28, 2011 – Comes with poster
    Legend of Zelda (volumes 1-10), October 25, 2011 – comes with poster
  • VIZ Media Box Set
    Fullmetal Alchemist (volumes 1-27) – November 1, 2011 – Comes with light novel and poster
  • Specialty Books
    Naruto: The Official Character Data Book – January 2012
    Studio Ghibli’s Arriety – January 2012: The Art of Arriety, Arriety Film Comics (volumes 1-2), Arriety Picture Book
    Bleach MASKED: Official Character Book 2 – March 2012
  • New for Shojo Beat
    A Devil and Her Love Song – February 2012
    Dawn of the Arcana – December 2011
    The Earl and the Fairy – March 2012
    Hana Kimi (3-in-1), March 2012
    Skip Beat
  • Available Now
    Meet Mameshiba!
    Mameshiba On the Loose!
  • Special Format
    Mameshiba (Heart) Winter – November 2011
    Pokemon Magnetic Playbook – November 2011
  • Newest Pokemon Movie
    Zoroark: Master of Illusions – Video and manga – DVD: September 20, 2011
  • Coming Soon
    Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamonroll – January 2012
    Voltron Force – Old crew trains new crew – Spring 2012
  • New for VIZ Kids (April 2012)
    Mr. Men Little Miss
    Little Miss Sunshine: It’s Always Sunny in Dillydale
  • Key Summer Releases (DVD)
    Vampire Night Guilty (volume 3)
    Kekkashi Set 2 – August 23, 2011
    Hero 108
    Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva (November 8, 2011)
  • Continued Simulcasts
    Tiger & Bunny
    Blue Exorcist
    Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan
    Blue Dragon (uncut), If numbers are good enough, this may see a physical release.

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