Tuesday, March 21, 2006

News: Vintage Japanese animation online

For the real connoiseur of anime, nothing can be more interesting than to see the germ of the Japanese style being born with the adoption of American animation styles to Japanese storytelling use. At YouTube, through the courtesy of some kind soul in Japan who calls himself miniTaiyaki, we can now see a couple of classic examples of early Japanese animation.

Featured are:

動絵狐狸達引 (ugokie kori no tatehiki -- "Moving Picture: Fox And Tanuki Trick Each Other"), directed by Oishi Ikuo in 1933. This is an amusing little Fleischeresque story of two of the animals usually associated in Japan with trickster magic. The two meet in a ruined temple and engage in a duel of magic and deceit. More on this vintage short at Nippon Eiga Shinsha. Oishi Ikuo is truly a pioneer of Japanese animation, beginning with 兎と亀 (usagi to kame -- "The Hare And The Tortoise") from 1924, which retells Aesop's classic fable.

くもとちゅうりっぷ (kumo to chuurippu -- "Spider And Tulip"), directed by Masaoka Kenzo in 1943. A seductive spider tries to entice a sweet and naïve little ladybug into his clutches, only to have his plans foiled when she seeks refuge in a tulip, and a storm conveniently blows the spider away. This was a production by Shouchiku Douga Kenkyuusho, which was also responsible for 桃太郎 海の神兵 (momotaro umi no shinpei -- "Momotaro, Divine Soldiers Of The Sea") in 1944, directed by Seo Mitsuyo with animation work by Seo and Masaoka.

These two short anime are extremely difficult to find under normal circumstances, and this is a wonderful opportunity to make their acquaintance.

(Hat tip: AMID at Cartoon Brew)

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Anime Review: Ergo Proxy


In the domed city of Romudo, the last haven of advanced civilisation in a world that has turned into a wasteland, the citizens live a regulated life of order and almost stupefying tranquility, attended by their auto-raves, non-sentient androids that act as servants, slaves, companions and guardians. The society is stratified, and the people are obedient and submissive.

Yet all is not well in this "brave new world". A strange disease, Cogito, is striking auto-raves at random, making them act unpredictably and with apparent independent sentience. Moreover, a series of random and brutal murders have struck the city.

Rill Mayor

In the lap of luxury, at the very highest level of this well-tempered society, lives Rill Mayor (capably given voice by the hitherto not-very-prominent Saitou Rie), inspector in the Citizen Information Bureau, and granddaughter of one of the city's leading men. For all the luxury that she enjoys, Rill is not happy, although she can't quite verbalize her unhappiness. When she investigates the murders, she finds that there is far more to them than meets the eye. Monstrosities are roaming the city, the Cogito infection is more significant than it immediately appears, and Rill's own life is in danger.

Vincent Law

As she investigates, the comfortable and protective walls of Rill's existence crumble, one by one. The seemingly unimportant, low-ranked citizen, Vincent Law (voiced competently but not outstandingly by Yusa Kouji, who usually does a much better job), appears to hold some of the answers to Rill's questions.

But can Rill uncover the answers, before Vincent becomes another victim -- or she does?

Ergo Proxy is an edgy, modernistic anime, the latest offering from Manglobe, the animation company that has recently made its mark with the equally edgy and iconoclastic Samurai Champloo. It's currently airing (from February 2006) on WOWOW in Japan, and this review is based on the three Japanese TV episodes screened so far.

From the start, it is clear that the makers of Ergo Proxy are eager to present a cutting-edge anime that is "hip" and "cool" and all those other words that reviewers use to describe new stuff. It doesn't quite succeed in being as hip and cool as it wants to be, largely because it tries too hard. The story is a cliché, but a good one -- it's Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, but with machines instead of humans.

The overall look of the anime is dark and dystopian, as befits the context. The character designs, especially Rill, attempt a higher degree of realism than is usual in animation. Unfortunately, the character animation is uneven. Rill herself is almost photographically depicted, obviously traced from a live model. Many of the other characters, however, are more stylised, in the traditional anime style.

Throw in a few gratuitous elements to keep the hardcore fans happy (and for the regular, non-anime film fanatics, there's even a reference to Battleship Potemkin in episode 2), including a cute mascot-type auto-rave, and you have the makings of a slow-growing audience success -- one of those series that doesn't immediately hit a note with everybody, but which definitely has the potential to create a large and loyal following.

I've listed a number of faults, all of which may give you the idea that I dislike Ergo Proxy. Not so, because as clichéed and pretentious as it is, it works. In fact, it works very well indeed. The often very violent action sequences have you hanging on the edge of your seat, but it's in the quiet moments that Ergo Proxy really comes into its own.

Witness a characteristic sequence: Vincent Law, asleep in an otherwise empty train car, drops his mobile phone/PDA. As the train turns a bend, the phone slides slowly across the floor. The train brakes, and the phone skitters down the length of the car. When it rings, Vincent wakes, disoriented, and stumbles down the length of the car to collect it.

Ergo Proxy is full of scenes of quiet detail like that. There is no doubt that the series is building up to a series of philosophical and political twists, but with 20 episodes still to go, there's room for a lot of development.

I recommend this anime. Odds are, if you liked Ghost in the Shell or Serial Experiments Lain, you'll like this one. But even if your standard fare is something completely different, Ergo Proxy is worth a look.

Ergo Proxy (Manglobe/WOWOW, 2006)
Director: Murase Shukou
Starring: Saitou Rie, Kobayashi Sanae, Yusa Kouji, Mizuuchi Kiyomitsu, Hanada Hikaru, Yajima Akiko

RP's Ratings:
Animation: 8/10
Story: 8/10
Voice acting: 7/10
Overall: 8/10

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An introduction of sorts

Welcome to this new blog, Completely Subjective -- a "sister blog" to my original blog, Random Platitudes.

I originally conceived Random Platitudes to be a general, all-purpose blog, wherein I could deal with all the topics that interested me (and they are many, indeed -- nothing human is alien to me, as Terence put it). However, as it developed, Random Platitudes became almost entirely a political /historical / current affairs / opinion piece blog, and adding other, more frivolous, material to it seemed out of place. When one is in the middle of pontificating on international politics, a cooking recipe or a review of a Japanese animated feature film might well seem somehow out of place. Therefore, I decided to create a number of related blogs, connected to the original, but each with a separate topic.

The first of these, and hopefully one that will prove as great a success as Random Platitudes, is Completely Subjective, which is dedicated to reviews (of film, television, animation, computer games, books, comics, whatever takes my fancy).

I welcome you to it, and I hope to soon provide you with interesting reading material.