Quiet Death, or Blaze of Glory?

Yasuke has it all, just not all together. Not unlike its title character.
by Bob Johnson

Here’s a show that came out exactly nine days too late last year: Yasuke. I do not know what chemical blend fuelled the production of this technicolor blur, but my friend has this desperate need to get some of it.

Livestreamed from the editing room.

Since there’s very little I can say about Yasuke that hasn’t been said more rudely elsewhere, let’s just start with the positives: This is a beautifully animated show with a killer soundtrack. We’re talking tunes that make you forget how direly anime needs another Nujabes — Flying Lotus could very well rise to the call. Lakeith Stanfield nails the VA for the title role. And well, I can’t really remember the last time I managed to hear about anime on NPR – maybe the FuniCrunch merger made the business section – but they talked up some Yasuke for sure. So Netflix indeed put some weight behind this and marketed the shit out of it, this is not one of the obscure, back-burner titles.

But the plot? It is… hot garbage. It barely budges from the through line of the standard sword-and-damsel plot, plus or minus certain squiggly arrows doodled on the storyboard, all hastily drawn around boxes with fresh Xs drawn through them. This is so palpable I’m trying to spit out the taste of red Sharpie. There’s so much that seems to occur “in between” episodes, almost as if entire extra episodes were meant to have taken place in the meantime. I’d call it Gonzo Ending, but the whole show is this way.

Out of everyone available, I mostly blame Netflix: its famously immutable budgets were unlikely to have covered a full 10 or 12 episodes once the bills started rolling in from MAPPA to draw up LeSean Thomas’ vision. The rest of this show, however epic it was to be, found itself on the cutting room floor.

So, legitimate question: if you were in the same bind, would you decide to go with dull, cheap animation to tell your whole story – or would you turn every knob up to 11, break them off, and spam “robots versus katanas” until your cash ran out?

As odd as it may seem to say, this show’s incompleteness may make it uniquely suited as a “gateway anime” – something to get the new anime viewer hungry for more substantial shows. Anime may be more popular than ever, but there are still plenty of folks out there who don’t fully grasp the capabilities of the medium. One look at Yasuke will cure anyone of that.

Word is that more of this show is coming. I don’t think that, at this late stage, it would make any sense to try to fill it in, as tempting as it may be to complete “missing” episodes. My vote would be for a prequel, as Yasuke’s personal history remains shrouded in mystery.

I would mostly recommend Yasuke for people who are less familiar with anime and want something that can, in about three hours, introduce them to a wide range of anime tropes. And if you like watching anime for the background noise, this is a must-hear.

Maybe look it up:
Yasuke
(6 episode anime)
Story by LeSean Thomas and Flying Lotus
Produced by MAPPA, Distributed by Netflix

Love and Friendship in the Hivemind Age

Kokoro Connect takes mistaken identity to a whole new level
by Bob Johnson

Today, we have 3D virtual reality experiences, even people who literally just walk around and livestream their eye-level headspace to the whole world. Most human beings have a great deal of capacity for empathy and reflection, and think easily of what they might do in another person’s place. Yet *literally* walking around in someone else’s shoes is still the stuff of science fiction, and alien body snatcher horror. Smash these ideas together with a high school slice-of-life anime, and suddenly, you have Kokoro Connect on your hands.

Club advisor Goto in Exposition Dump mode.

The setup is plainly stated: A jerkwad alien going by the name of Heartseed wants to play “New Rule” at a level never envisioned by Bill Maher, decreeing bizarre psychic swaps and brainleaks between these erstwhile BFFs, and presenting a monotone spiel that makes it clear that the level of regard for their lives is on par with a collegebound kid debating whether to keep or burn an ant farm. Every few episodes, Heartseed returns to shake the ant farm and observe if our characters manage to tunnel out again.

Seeing these concepts play out with random variations over 15 episodes is both wonderful and annoying. Annoying in that we get to see in detail how much certain people “literally can’t even” with whiffs of Shinji Ikari wafting off the steaming pile of certain episode scripts. But also wonderful to see these concepts woven into a semi-realistic tapestry of ordinary lives, which despite all this adversity, still manage to muddle through and find happiness.

Heartseed’s experiments mess only with members of Yamaboshi High School’s Cultural Studies Club, another one of those catchall do-nothing low-membership student clubs so common in anime. The energetic club president, Iori, is joined by just four others: the serious Taichi, the carefree Aoki, icy Inaba, and anxious Yui.

You couldn’t ask for a more average-looking student club.

When every day is Freaky Friday, the clubmates have to adapt to strange situations on the fly, occasionally with hilarious results. As they attempt to live their lives without tipping off others to their strange predicament, they’re helped along by the lackadaisical club advisor, Mr. Go, and Iori’s capable, well-organized class rep, Fujishima. Of course, nothing’s perfect, as Mr. Go slips into Jekyll-and-Hyde mode whenever Heartbleed wants to appear, and the romance-obsessed Fujishima often meddles in their already strained relationships.

Class rep Fujishima says hunger (and love) is the best spice.

The show’s 17 episodes are split into one 13 episode season and a 4 episode OVA. While it’s often easy to skip extra episodes, in this case the OVA really is essential to wrap things up, so if you decide to watch and don’t otherwise drop off from the show, go ahead and finish it all. In addition to the anime, otaku fond of a quiet sitdown can look at any of the 11 original Kokoro Connect light novels, also translated into English.

The show is alternately sweet and bittersweet, dramatic and comedic, dark and silly. Suffice it to say, it is a moody, non-stop feels train. It’s hard to suggest as a starter show to newbie anime viewers, but it is very much in the same lane as other complex works at the interface of sci-fi/fantasy and relationships, like Revolutionary Girl Utena, Orange, Haruhi Suzumiya, or Your Name.

Despite its complexity, as its overall focus is squarely on relationships, I think Kokoro Connect is worth a watch at this time of year. Sure, you could watch dozens of other romance shows, the ones that dither about clothes and flowers and which member of the harem is best, but where’s the *edge*? Kokoro Connect will hit you right in the gut, and set you back up again. Not bad if that’s what you’re looking for.

Maybe look it up:
Kokoro Connect (13 episode anime + 4 episode OVA)
Based on the light novels by Anda Sadanatsu
Produced by Silver Link, Licenced by Sentai

Streaming (press time): Crunchyroll, HiDive

Binary Stars and other BS

Infinite Ryvius and Twin Spica both serve to bother space otaku
by Bob Johnson

I’m a huge space nerd. But I need to say something about space anime. So many of my favourite anime are set in space: Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, just to name a few. For obvious reasons, Space continues to be a common setting for SF anime. That also means that there’s plenty of disappointing space anime out there (cough Glass Fleet cough). Here, I give half a chance each to two space-themed shows on the wobbly soft end of the space-opera scale, Twin Spica and Infinite Ryvius.

Twin Spica

Kei-chan agrees: Twin Spica kind of stinks.

Twin Spica is an uncommon fusion of soap opera and supernatural mystery, all overdosed on space science trivia. It is also thoroughly Shojo and Slice of Life, and that means it is SLOOoooOOW. It’s about Asumi, a disaster-affected moéblob whose aspiration is to become a “rocket driver” for her dad and her ghost friend. And since this is future-Japan, sure enough, there’s a high school in Tokyo for that!

Shu-kun knows where he’s going.

I think the real height of the show was episodes 4 and 6 (a two-parter split by E05, a filler episode). 4/6 showed the real essence of spaceflight, disguised as an entrance exam. The rest of the show — mostly boredom punctuated by frenzied moments of excitement — is also very on the nose for the flight experience in general.

While there are a fair number of active moments, even borderline awesomeness in this show, it’s important to note how wabi-sabi this all is. Asumi’s quest is not simply a trip to space camp, but a heart-wrenching tale of loss, loneliness, and quiet desperation.

Asumi-chan spills a bunch of CGI on the floor.

Though Twin Spica was crafted to be an edutainment show for younger kids, Japanese sensibilities intrude to prevent me from calling it kid-friendly everywhere. I don’t think a dubbed version was ever officially released in North America, but there is one of those Animax english dubs floating around. Thus, my occasional quest to find chibi-compatible shows continues to strike out. I may personally finish it, though.

Infinite Ryvius

Infinite Ryvius is boring! How do you make space boring? Mainly… have people fight for no reason! Shout and scream all the time and don’t actually do anything! Infinite Ryvius reminds me a bit of Stargate: Universe in this respect. Instead of sending professionals out there, just send a bunch of untrained cadets and chaos agents on your important space mission. That’ll work, right?

Infiinte Ryvius in a nutshell: it’s all there ready for you — but why am I not hungry anymore?

Essentially, generic anime protagonist and too many of his classmates are stuck on a sinking space station. Sinking into what? Good question! Not a gravity well or planetary atmosphere though, that would be too obvious. Infinite Ryvius aspires to be a tokusatsu disaster epic, but there is just so much trouble establishing the suspension of disbelief. I despise half of the cast from the get-go, I don’t care for the all-too-obvious mystery elements, but probably its worst offence is that it doesn’t even use real science — much like Space Battleship Yamato 2199’s space-submarine episode, they invented a new form of reality to allow their space station to sink into a space-ocean. I have no doubt there are new discoveries to be made in physics, but I strongly doubt there is any kind of dimensional rift within the solar system that makes this show even remotely plausible.

What’s good about this show? Uhm, well, It’s vaguely actiony and has a hip-hop soundtrack. The dub – tastefully cheesy – may be enough to put this show on a “so bad it’s good” groupwatch. But I just cannot get past the third episode on my own without falling asleep.


Maybe look it up:
Twin Spica (Futatsu no Spica) 20 episode anime
based on the manga by Kou Yaginuma
Produced by Group TAC


Don’t look it up:
Infinite Ryvius 26 episode anime
Written by Yosuke Kuroda, Directed by Goro Taniguchi
Produced by Sunrise, Licenced by Sentai

Blander than Maruchan

Dear Naruto, “more” doesn’t mean “better”. Believe it!
by Bob Johnson

Team Kakashi is always high on morale.

Sometimes you don’t want to eat anything special, just a big bowl of ramen. Maybe you pop in an extra pack because you have dozens laying around. Maybe one of those generic microwave pot stickers today, too. Maybe you bought a few too many and now you feel stuck eating the same thing every day. Welcome to Naruto, the endless soup and dumplings of anime. It’s not over (nor do I think it ever will be), but I can tell you my thoughts on the entire first series.

I don’t begrudge the folks who loved this show because it aired at just the right time in their lives. But I do see this for what it is, a middle-of-the-road long-running shonen. The gag comedy has been done before. The strategy and fighting has been done before. And it’s just so … generic and all-pervasive that it became its era’s definition of stereotypical anime, much like Pokémon or DBZ had been just a few years before. I might never have watched it without 2019’s avalanche of Yang Gang memes making me feel left out. Fortunately enough, Naruto seems to be at least a cut above its progenitors on the list of “I don’t really watch anime” anime.

When it comes to the show itself – well, there’s a big difference between wanting to be the strongest and actually being the strongest. For the entire series, the character of Naruto straddles the line between these two categories. Plainly irresponsible and inexperienced, his discipline level keeps him in the first bin. Yet if he had full control of his raw power, he could very well be in the second and achieve his dream of being village chief.

Even among ninja who walk on water and run-fly spread-armed through forest canopies as an animation cost-saving measure a basic chakra ability, Naruto is special. The power of the Nine Tailed Fox deep within him can grant him supercharged powers, which he uses almost as much for pranks as for training and fights.

Along for the ride is Sakura, his perpetual un-girlfriend who expresses herself primarily through skyward right hooks, and Sasuke, a too-cool-for-you ninja at the top of the class, who has little but contempt for Naruto’s silliness, or anyone else for that matter. They are assigned to a fighting team lead by Kakashi, a teacher and senior ninja.

Bound together in more of a rivalry than friendship, they take on jobs that need a surprising amount of strategy (and civil engineering!) until sinister agents upend the safety of their hometown, succinctly called “The Village Hidden In The Leaves”. Conveniently, this is exactly at the time of their final exams for ninja school. So naturally, as the protagonists in a kids’ anime show, they wipe the floor with the invaders and send them packing in a comedy gag?

You’d think so … except, no. This is when the kids get to grow up and deal with the real world. As much as it is about the title character’s antics, the show is also about an untold history, and from this point, as the tale unfolds we see the tapestry of prior generations unravel as Naruto learns their secrets.

Naruto aims to be Fire Lord. Problem, Prince Zuko?

But even as I admit that there’s more to this show than meets the Sharingan, I still have to take it down a peg. Older folks who remember the show fondly may find it’s not exactly small-tyke stuff when Naruto’s Sexy Jutsu or Jiraiya’s penchant for hotsprings pops up. All of that is baked into the modern streaming editions; the old TV edit isn’t particularly easy to find anymore.

And of course, this show is many things but it is not in a hurry. Naruto takes 40 episodes to “get good” – in that same amount of time, you could have watched 3 whole shows instead! The full run of 220 is positively languid, many of them just filling time. I’m not even complaining about the anime-original stuff versus the manga (a topic I’ll leave to the true believers), but how it pads things out with inner dialogue, fight windups, pointless gags, and recaps. Even today when you can click ahead and watch at accelerated speed, it can get annoying to deal with.

All this filler is starting to bug me. (No offense, Shino)

If you’ve already seen it, you know what’s up, and you know the parts that deserve a skip or a rewatch. But why would you ever watch this monstrosity if you hadn’t already? First, its cultural bigness can be considered a feature rather than a bug. Wearing a Naruto shirt can get you easy street cred far and wide, even on a hiking trail in the wilds of South Dakota. Fans of better anime need much better luck sporting their colours in the wild.

But perhaps more importantly, Naruto teaches life skills. This is a place where our heroes are always digging deep for that last bit of energy and doing their best to grow and improve. There’s immeasurable value in holding to that same stick-to-it-ive attitude in one’s own life.

Maybe Look It Up:
Naruto (2002) 220 episode series
based on the manga by Masashi Kishimoto
Produced by Pierrot, Licenced by Viz

Taisho Baseball Girls is SAFE!

Mostly harmless but with an otaku bonus
by Bob Johnson

I first heard about Taisho Baseball Girls as I was working on my Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei review, and for whatever reason, it’s a show that continued to stick in the back of my mind. Finally, a wave of ‘not much better to do’ collided with an upcoming edition, and I figured this would be a pop fly. It was going to be awesome. I was going to crush someone’s soul with a +2 frying pan of rejection. And if someone dared to complain about me beating up a defenceless pile of moéblobs, I’d just say “We publish most Aprils! It’s Baseball Season! It was going to happen eventually!”

So imagine my shock to discover that I actually enjoyed watching this show.

Why hello Koume… Want to star in a seinen with me?

What?!

What is up with that Akiko leer? What is up with everything down to the baseball methods and stats being spot on? As it turns out, despite the name, despite the PG rating, Taisho Baseball Girls is not a glittery-saccharine, ‘let’s do our hair’ shojo. It’s a grit-and-determination, ‘let’s not tell mom and dad’ seinen.

Sure, there is yuri subtext just waiting to burst all over a fanfic writer’s keyboard. But if this was *just* about fanservice, why bother going to all the trouble of a historical piece? In 2009, the heyday of ‘X but with cute girls’ shows, you could just roll up a batch of waifus, coat them in pearl sugar, and bake them in the oven into some kind of The Sandlot ripoff (or nothing in particular) and just cash in. If that was the only goal, why even bother setting it in the 1920s?

Because this show needs ~Drama~! All-too-real drama about how “girls can’t play baseball.” Maybe you can still hear that false and mean-spirited taunt going around in more recent years, but a century ago, it was just about how Japanese society really would have reacted.

Japan’s Taisho era (1912-1926) is often remembered fondly as a time when Westernization was ongoing but hadn’t reached its endpoint, and national politics seriously flirted with actual democracy. Individuals in Japan were perhaps freer to choose their paths in the Taisho era than in the years immediately before or after, so it’s a great setting for historical fiction. (see also: Gosick)

Yet through the eyes of these aspiring young women, we can clearly see that within these rose-coloured lenses lays a paradox: though it was an age that was better for *some* people in *some* ways, it was not better for *all* – and the events of TBG clearly demonstrate how things were not always rosy. This was a time when a woman *picking her own husband* was a science fiction concept from the distant future year of 1947.

Koume and Akiko

So, perhaps counterintuitively, if you’re going to have a show about cute girls doing cute things in this era, they’re probably all going to be rebels. That leads me to the heroine of this story, Akiko. Though technically second banana, Akiko is the driving force of the show from the start. She’s from a wealthy family, but was married off and lives essentially in a gilded cage. But she does still have some friends at school, and a defiant dream to stand up for herself and the role of women outside the home. But she’s rather isolated, so she turns to her BFF to help get a band together.

Koume, though nominally the protagonist, is not all that interesting. She’s a waitress at her parents’ restaurant, serving period-accurate fusion cuisine. The only things that she truly wants are a new set of clothes, and to not to disappoint her friends. Mainly we see her reacting with alarm or stubbornness to the events around her. Only rarely does she drive things forward personally.

The remaining characters add more fun and flavour, though apart from Noe’s quest for management-quality information on the Asaka baseball team, most of the antics aren’t necessarily plot-essential.

Go Oukakai! Beat Asaka!

If you think that anything from the 2000s that moés up a clutch of anime girls is asinine, or that most forms of the training montage are mind-numbingly boring, then you’ve probably already zoned out. This is not a show for everyone, indeed, this is a show for some very specific kinds of weebs.

You’ll probably appreciate TBG if you like Japanese history, or if you’ve been known to join Hana Oshiroi in the art of keyboard-bending, and also if you enjoy the Great American Pastime. If you are a Sub purist, your fancy might also be tickled by the fact there’s no English dub at all!

Are you looking for a samurai tale with challenge letters and duels? A bittersweet tale about about how love is shortchanged by the institution of arranged marriage? A gag comedy slice of life? Something yurilicious? It’s all in the tin here – Taisho Baseball Girls provides a bit more than you’d guess at first glance.

Maybe look it up:

Taisho Baseball Girls (2009) 12 episode anime
Based on the light novels by Atsushi Kagurazaka and Sadaji Koike
Produced by J.C. Staff, Licenced by Sentai

The Return of Captain Tylor

A Re-Hashed Look at the Captain Tylor OVA
by Gristle McThornbody

Follow ups are usually hit-and miss. Some carry on the story of a franchise, while others tend to exist for existing’s sake. Somehow, the Tylor OVA does a little bit of both. A continuation from where the anime left off, the 10-episodes sprinkle in both plot and fluff. But, as a theme song consumer, I daresay it has a pretty good one.

The art and tone we were all used to

We join the crew of the undefeated Soyokaze several months after successful win in a no-shooting battle.High on their own confidence (except the Captain), the crew starts off in a bar, being challenged by an almost-equally drunk Aranami. Hijinks ensue. However, the crew is once again called to deal with a growing situation with the Raalgons. Like in the series, they end up captured and through sheer luck, once again escape-but not unscathed.

That’s episodes 1 and 2, and it very much kept the tone and art style of the original, a fun satire of space operas, mixed in with the Japanese trope of the bumbling, lucky, irresponsible salaryman (Tylor), but with a heart of gold.

Episodes 3 to 6  are….ok. They are vignettes of the crew while the Soyokaze is in dry dock, getting repaired from what happened to it in episode 2. It’s an interesting side quest looking into the crew’s life, but any eagle-eyed reader will notice a large tone shift coupled with a near-redesign of characters. I still wonder about the purpose of these episodes, but we get them anyway, so watch away. Yes they are all neat and cute in their own way, but if it was a longer series, it would have earned a filler or two – which sadly it didn’t.

It’s different, but the same

Episodes 7 and 8 is where the story starts to get re-railed and we find Lt. Commander Yamamoto in charge of an escort fleet, getting a very large cargo ship through space. Meanwhile, in the side-plot Raalgon secret agents kidnap Commander Star, to find out the genius/luck behind Tylor, signalling that the Empire is getting restless and ready to fight the UPSF.

All doesn’t go to plan, and a deafening sound with a red light comes from distant space to disable all the ships, badly damaging them, and possibly Yamamoto’s career. As growing wonderment as to “why” gnaws at his very being, we get a clear reason of why and we finally get going with the plot.

As the crew action concludes, there exists the air of “something” growing, handed to the viewer (and Yamamoto) as an all-encompassing red light that disables ships and anything else it comes across. This is a major plot point covered in episodes 9 and 10 of the series, when the now once-defeated Soyokaze gets ready for another important space journey with Tylor and the crew to fight this valiant fight, steeped in intrigue, Raalgon infighting and backstabbing and a final dual.

Blue screen of death? No, red light district… of death

It’s been 10 years since I first saw this OVA, and I still harbour very mixed feelings about it. The mentioned art-shift is something that is jarring, both visually and because of the accompanying tone shift. Transitioning from a fun satire to a hard-lined space operas -and becoming what it was making fun of- was a very rough experience. While I could see the original motivation and basic traits of the characters (Yamamoto really shined here, becoming a commander of two different ships) as we go to unfamiliar territory with Tylor the abrupt, cliffhanger ending makes the viewer want for more.

However, there isn’t more, or at least anything that’s worthwhile. What happened after the UPSF and the Raalgon got together are covered by DVD liner notes that came as an extra on the anime box set and a fluff-filled thing from 2017 that is only good for, like, 5 minutes of exposition.

Back within the bounds of the OVA, I give this a solid 4 out of 5. It’s still a solid space opera. But you didn’t watch this for a solid space opera. You wanted more satire. You’d be good with staying with and watching the anime, but if you absolutely have to, and want more Tylor in your life, give this a spin, the codicil that you probably won’t like the ending.

Maybe look It Up:
The Irresponsible Captain Tylor OVA (1994-1996)
Based on the light novels by Hitoshi Yoshioka
Produced by Daume and Studio Deen, Licenced by Right Stuf

The Moody Middle Child

Just Weird Enough to Not Be Normal
by Bolt Vanderhuge

The Kerberos Saga is the only movie trilogy I can think of that actually moves backward through time in each subsequent sequel, as well as becoming more and more grounded. While almost anything is grounded compared to the film that started it all, The Red Spectacles, the animated film that ends the trilogy, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade sharply contrasts it by being a dead serious look at the alternate history universe created by Mamoru Oshii which features a post WWII fascist Japan that was occupied by Nazi Germany, and follows the exploits of Tokyo’s Public Security Special Unit, which utilize powered armor and tote MG-42s.  Part of this contrast is because Oshii did not direct Jin-Roh, as he was busy making Ghost in the Shell at the time, but somehow, StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops manages to fit between the two book-ends to this trilogy by being mostly grounded while still containing plenty of odd, shall we say, “symbolic” elements to it, which often feature red rubber balls to drive home the stray dog theme of the movie, as well as the return of the mime squad from the first movie.

Not to mention the ‘never really finished unpacking’ look of this woman’s apartment.

The story also has something of a retcon which changes the circumstances of the Kerberos’ leader’s escape from his besieged headquarters and from Japan altogether thanks to a change in government which saw the Special Unit fall out of favor afterwards.  While his two friends are referenced in dialog, Koichi Todome instead makes his helicopter flight out of the country from the roof of Kerboros HQ shortly before it is stormed, ending the siege.  The film follows one of his comrades, Inui, shortly after he has been released from prison and placed on parole.  Feeling betrayed by his former commander, he begins hunting the man, along with the help of a woman who helped Koichi hide out for a while in Taiwan, named Tang Mie.  They eventually do find the man, and this is where the film seems to derail for a bit as they live as something of a throuple for a while.

While this movie is over twenty minutes shorter than The Red Spectacles, it actually feels about an hour longer thanks to the many long sequences that mainly consist of tracking shots and moody music.  Anyone familiar with Oshii films might recognize this as something of a common feature in many of his films, which includes the most recent film of his I watched, Assault Girls.  On the plus side, this film escaped his later proclivity for using a color filter.

Eventually, everything culminates in an action-packed climax, which involves a shoot-out with our old friends, the mime squad, with some occasional oddball humor being injected into the midst of the battle.

Only slightly less weird than the first time we saw them.

In what is easily the best part of the movie, Inui systematically hunts them all down in an abandoned hotel, thwarting their planned ambush of Koichi by wearing his armored “Protect-Gear,” which is the only remaining set that was unaccounted for following the Kerboros Uprising.  However, this does result in a downer ending, which reinforces the theme which runs through all three films about how survival is only possible through following the pack, and stray dogs who are either abandoned by or abandon their master end up dying alone.  The ending then leads into the events of The Red Spectacles, but naturally never explains what the deal with that movie was, because Mamoru Oshii wants you to think about his movies, even if this tends to just lead to frustration and confusion.

If you liked the first movie, I’d definitely recommend this sequel/prequel to it, but if you only know about Jin-Roh I’d be more cautious about suggesting you watch it.  I’m not even sure if watching The Red Spectacles would be required to understand and/or enjoy this film, and I’ll fully admit that my love for them comes mainly from how weird they are, though admittedly StrayDog is a bit of a slog.  I would say, though, that if you’re a fan of Jin-Roh and are just curious about these previous two chapters in what you might not have even realized was a trilogy, that you keep in mind that these movies are very much not like Jin-Roh, so you need to adjust your expectations accordingly, by just not having any.  

Maybe Check It Out
StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991)
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Distributed by Shochiku Company, Limited

This Is Fine


I paused my doomscroll for Japan Sinks 2020
by Bob Johnson

As Howard Mohr taught us, it could always be worse more often than it could be better.  I know we’re running out of fingers and covid toes to count how 2020 has taken the reality of our global civilization and placed it into a blender that is decidedly not filled with ice cubes and strawberries… Wouldn’t it be cathartic if we could go back to disasters that affected just one country?

Well, slamming like an oversized asteroid onto Netflix this past July 9 was “Japan Sinks 2020”, a little ditty about 100 million people being flipped casually into the dead slate Pacific.  We follow the story of the Mutoh family as they attempt to do the best they can, each starting from a familiar place in the routine of modern life – an aircraft on final approach, a construction scaffold, a locker room, a schoolyard.  Then the earthquake drops, and we go instantly from slice-of-life to slice-of-death.  Moving forward from here will take luck and grit.

The show is cut and paced for Netflix.  That means some liberties taken with episode runtimes – most of the 10 eps running longer than 22 minutes – and cliffhangers at virtually all the episode ends, some bending the plot more than others.  Fortunately, the subject matter itself provides decent cover for these relatively minor issues.  Survival is not a perfect science, after all.  Given infinite time and resources, we’d all make better calls.  But even the smartest, most experienced people make mistakes when they’re in a rush and underequipped.

Some disaster epics try to shoehorn in some romance; best hold your breath on that.  A touch of “senpai notice me” is there, if only to demonstrate its fragility and futility in the worst of times.  But disaster can also encourage an unhealthy, devil-may-care, time-pressured attitude toward relationships, adding further trauma for the show to explore.

While it breaks the mould in many respects, it still has fun expressing its creativity, and isn’t shy about taking a brief tangent for a bit of comic relief.  The show achieves its ‘peak anime’ moment during one of these denouements: a rap battle for the honour of Japan at a hot spring that is also a beach.

Spoiler Alert: Yes, there is a Hot Springs Episode.

Artwise?  Colour is used effectively to set the mood; vibrant and bright in hopeful times, subdued and dark when there’s danger or pessimism.  The drawing style can get a rough-in at times, but it’s never jarring given the sketchy nature of the situations our heroes find themselves in.

The varied locales are notable given the road trip nature of the show.  There’s familiar sights to anime fans, like Mount Fuji, or shrines for Shinto or Buddhism, but the show goes to lengths to get it right for everything from seaport docks, to lonely mountainside gas stations, to the utopian commune of Shan City.

The voice acting is sufficient, though you’ll perhaps notice more Canadian accent here than Kansai accent.  While Netflix may lack the bench needed to copy the idiosyncratic localization tactics of anime’s familiar Texas-based dubhouses, they make up for it in volume, expanding the limits of what’s possible for dubs and subs beyond English, but also Spanish, French, and others, as well as the holy grail for the true weeaboo: subtitles *IN JAPANESE*.

Refined otaku can study the full and original text.

Japan Sinks 2020 is a fine addition to the Japanese tradition of tokusatsu disaster film, using the imagined disaster to pierce the solicitous, anachronistic exceptionalism of the hermit kingdom and challenge it to actually internalize the racial and international harmony that Japan always says it wants to see in the world at large.  When even terra firma is impermanent, what remains to cling to, except for each other?

The show also says, with more than a wink to Justy Ueki Tylor, that Luck is the most important factor in surviving a disaster so large it destroys everything about you and your way of life.

If your stomach turns at the thought of being saved by the YouTube Generation with their selfies and drones and paragliding and pet robots, then you might not see the finale as particularly happy or heroic.  Still, we are left convinced that Japan, in whatever form it has taken after this terrible crisis, is still a notable cultural force.  Even diminished, it can still be remembered in its former glory, and aspire to hang in there in the new age.

Between this and Keep your hands off Eizouken!, 2020 is officially the year of Science Saru.  I can’t say that it is the most uplifting content for these challenging times.  But it does manage to stick the landing.

Maybe Look It Up:
Japan Sinks 2020 (2020) 10 episode Original Net Animation
Based on the novel Japan Sinks by Sakyo Komatsu
Produced by Science Saru, Licenced by Netflix

Smile down the Runway

I like where this thread is going

by Bob Johnson

Crawling through this season’s anime chart is no easier of a slog this time than any other. Just searching through the A titles yields two notable loads of bishi-bait – A3! (Dull!) and ARP Backstage Pass (drama buoyed by peppy J-Pop while also boat-anchored to CGI dance numbers, and dripping with BL subtext).

On the flip side – things that are actually good – in yet another triumph of meta-anime, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! has steadily become the talk of the town. I don’t disagree with that, it plainly belongs up there on Mount Weebmore with your Shiro Bakos and such. Just don’t miss the forest for the tallest tree, either. There’s at least one other show this season worth watching.

Smile down the Runway is a classic tale of two misfits who are propelled by a mutual love of fashion. One suffers from the weight of disappointment, never growing to the height needed to model clothes in the usual way. The other toils in obscurity, patching together viral clothing designs from odds and ends laying around, but is held back by economics and inexperience. With an odd wisdom before their years, both realize that with their handicaps, they might only have one shot to break into the big time. So they give it their all.

But can you fix being short on short notice?

The simple mechanic where our leads take on the specific challenge before them has produced a show that is both joyful and practical. This is what you need to do, what kind of job you need, what you need to do to get through the day. And when someone tells you that you can’t do something, you do it anyway! In this way, it’s entirely different in tone from other fashion anime – Princess Jellyfish (zany antics punctuated by desperation plays that in true comedic fashion, always lead to the protagonists failing upward) and Paradise Kiss (a melodramatic slide from innocence into a struggle in a grey and jaded world).

Now granted, most Americans caught their fill of this sort of thing sometime early in the previous decade. But if you haven’t already been over-Tyra Banks-ed, you might weave this show into into your tapestry.

Maybe check it out:
Smile down the Runway (Runway de Warette)
Based on the manga by Kotoba Inoya
Produced by Ezóla, Licenced by Funimation

Glorious Zipang

All the excitement of a documentary
by Bolt Vanderhuge

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this anime. On the one hand it’s an interesting take on the premise of the movie Final Countdown which features a modern Japanese Aegis destroyer named Mirai being transported to WWII rather than an American aircraft carrier, but on the other it tends to really slow its own plot and action down for the sake of philosophic discussion or just for the sake of military fanservice. This isn’t to bash on this series exactly, because I can totally go for slow, philosophical plots, or discussing the features and capabilities of both modern and WWII era ships and aircraft, but this can get kind of frustrating when it has the effect of slamming the brakes on everything else that’s trying to happen in the story.

Some of this comes from agonizing over whether it’s ethical to even defend themselves or to rescue anyone from this time period they see in distress as it might alter that timeline. This could be a cultural difference, as I doubt an American ship in their place would hesitate as much, and would probably be more concerned over how irreplaceable any resources might be. There’s also the awkwardness that comes from finding yourself in a shooting war with people you’ve grown up all your life thinking of as allies (their ship is even based on an American design). But most of the focus seemed to be on how any actions they take could alter time with the crew deciding they wanted to avoid this, that is when it isn’t taking time to nerd out over the various ships, submarines, aircraft, and weapons in the show.

There isn’t anything Freudian about this scene at all

Enter LCdr Kusaka, an Imperial Japanese Navy officer whom the Mirai‘s first officer, LCdr Kadomatsu, decides he just can’t watch drown as they come across his crashed airplane. They then double down on this by letting someone who was supposed to have died have access to the ship’s library, so he can read all about how the war and its aftermath are supposed to go down. This does result in interesting maneuvering by Kusaka, as he leads Kadomatsu on a cat and mouse chase as it’s not entirely clear what his endgame is beyond expressing a desire to end the war in a more favorable way for Japan, and in doing so creating a new Japan. This also leads to some interesting questions as to what has happened to the very aptly-named Mirai as events happen which make it clear what the crew knows as history has been altered, without causing any changes in them as per Back to the Future rules. Paradox? Alternate timeline? Who knows? After all, the anime never got a second season and it ended on a cliffhanger without ever answering any of the questions it brought up.

It is still a fairly interesting plot to follow, though, especially as the ship struggles to stay out of history’s way while ending up being repeatedly forced to act to defend itself, as well as making what allies it can to ensure the crew might actually have a chance of living through whatever is going on. Naturally both Japan and the US are interested in the ship and its technology and want to either get their hands on it, or destroy it so as to deny it to anyone else.

Ultimately, the most frustrating aspect of this show is its abrupt end and lack of any resolution. The anime came out in 2004, so it’s unlikely it will get any follow-up because you degenerates are way more interested in watching cute girls doing cute things than alternate history political thrillers. If you were hoping to get some resolution by reading the manga, you’re kind of out of luck unless you can read Japanese, Korean, or French, as only a quarter of its forty-three volume run has been translated into English, and only four were ever published in North America. But if you like drooling over military hardware and/or fantasizing about how a modern warship would fare in WWII, this anime might still be worth a watch.

Maybe Check it Out:
Zipang (2004) 26 episode anime
based on the manga by Kaiji Kawaguchi
Produced by Studio Deen, licenced by Geneon