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Though perhaps falling short of being a classic, Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, perhaps his swan song, is a return to form for the old master as he weaves a complex tale of childhood dreams, engineering marvels, solemn loves, and killing machines.
A bespectacled boy wakes in his ordinary house and climbs onto the roof, to which is attached something most unordinary – a plane. He climbs in and sails into the clouds as the townsfolk celebrate his flight, before organic, living bombs destroy his aircraft and he falls through the sky and back into himself, waking from the dream.
The opening scenes of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, The Wind Rises, reflect the structure of the film. In most ways, it is his most realistic movie for Studio Ghibli, the company he co-founded. A fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the lead designer of Japanese World War II fighter aircraft, the movie is reminiscent of the more grounded films from his Studio Ghibli contemporaries. But Miyazaki beautifully weaves his noted fantastical elements into the film through dream sequences and other events that transpire in Horikoshi’s head. Especially early in the film, the director did something to me he has never done in his previous films – he appealed to the boy in me, the one who dreamed big and wanted to be the hero.
But though the fantasy portions are a highlight of the film, bringing to mind soaring sequences from Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso, perhaps even more enthralling is the animation in the more earthy parts of The Wind Rises- shadows on a face, writing on a piece of paper, grass and parasols blowing in the wind, and in what is surprisingly the most breathtaking and heart-pounding scene of the movie, Horikoshi and his love interest, Naoko, passing paper airplanes to one another. Though not the rich visual feast Ponyo was, The Wind Rises is nonetheless stunning in its subtlety.
But it’s also these quieter elements that sometimes drag on for far too long. The movie clocks in at two hours, and half that time has the protagonist wandering – in Germany, in Japan – and not doing a whole lot, at least not in terms of anything dynamic. I guess engineering can only be so interesting when animated. The film does pick up after this soporific middle portion, however, as a lovely romance story unfolds, one which I didn’t expect to see in a Miyazaki film. That was a pleasant surprise.
Less pleasant was the elephant in the room – the fact that the main character, celebrated in the movie, was responsible for designing airplanes which helped Japan in their wartime activities. Miyazaki, a known pacifist, hammers home his themes that we must go on and follow our heart and that the common people of Japan, many of whom didn’t agree with the country’s actions, did their best without being responsible for the war effort. Unfortunately, Miyazaki tries too hard with his dialogue, beautiful as it is, emphasizing points which are more morally difficult to grasp than he tries to make them.
What is Horikoshi’s complicity in the killing of so many in the war? More importantly, what was the average Japanese person’s complicity in the war? The answer to both is “far more” than Miyazaki implies, though he deserves a modicum of respect for bringing up such difficult issues in his home country.
Ultimately, while the movie suffers because of the slow plotting and the moral unease of the tale, it shines to an extent that hasn’t been seen in a Miyazaki film since Spirited Away. As if to say that he has more to animate than Shinto spirits and magical stories, Miyazaki proves that he can tell most any story with graceful and sometimes astounding artistic strokes. If not a masterpiece, The Wind Rises comes close, and if it is his last film, Miyazaki has left us with a marvel to remember.
As with being a fan of any media, being an anime fanatic can be simultaneously an extremely fulfilling experience and also a very frustrating one. This season is no exception. Amid the fourteen anime I am watching this season*, for every moment I spend enjoying an anime, I spend perhaps an equal moment being conversely annoyed at it. Don’t get me wrong, if I wasn’t enjoying the experience of watching what I watch, then I would no longer be doing so (the collective enjoyment I gain from consuming all the media I consume outweighs what small frustrations might come along with it). Although I may have let slip my
hatred distaste toward Kill la Kill two weeks ago, the knowledge I gain from watching it improves my contextual analysis of anime now and in the future to the point that the time I spend consuming it feels worth it (in terms of economics, my watching outweighs the opportunity cost of doing otherwise).
All of this has brought much of my attention to a little gem this season entitled Tonari no Seki-Kun. At about eight minutes per episode, the series contains about the depth of graham cracker… but that’s okay! In devoting the pure amount of time I must in order to stay up with anime while juggling university work as I have been, I have begun to appreciate more the shows that take little mental processing power but continue to provide adequate entertainment.
I will be blatantly honest. Kill la Kill is my least favorite anime to air in the past few years, and by quite a large margin as well. And yet, despite that, I continue to watch it. Blame its popularity, or blame my inability to drop a series (just ask Charles), but regardless of the “why,” I have been sticking through it. However, perhaps the underlying purpose of my watching this show despite it being what I consider to be an amalgam of mediocrity, has been to relate it to Anime Today. If that is so, then that purpose will be fulfilled today in this article.*
Normally, I would make some sort of statement claiming that I would do my best to stay unbiased and not to let my opinion of the show reflect my writing any further, but I think I’ve gone and jolly well proven that that is simply not going to be the case here. Regardless… I will do my best.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Money is the root of all evil.” Whether or not you actually believe that phrase, it is no question that society, or at least western society, both worships money while simultaneously reviling it in its idealism. Episode 15 of Kill la Kill attempts to do something rather interesting, or perhaps only interesting in comparison to what the rest of the series has had to offer thus far, and that is use that mindset as a framework for the combat skills of the newly-introduced character, Kaneo Takarada. Takarada, a ridiculously (and hilariously) wealthy and powerful figure in Osaka, centers all of his combat abilities around money. This ranges from literally using money as a physical weapon to using money in the more conventional sense as a bribery tool to cause others to do his bidding.
Speaking (or writing, rather) as someone who has both grown up an area of heavy Christian fundamentalism, and also currently resides in an area of Christian fundamentalism, I am absolutely no stranger to the distastes of the concept of witchcraft and magic. Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, and Oujia boards were all equally condemned, though condemned in different contexts by different people.
The reason these topics have been brought to my mind, and consequently to paper, as of late comes in the form of the currently-airing series entitled, you guessed it, Witchcraft Works. Although it is still too early to tell what sort of quality the series will ultimately show itself to be, I have been constantly reminded of the “demonic” content that it includes that tends to drive Christians away from what is an otherwise entertaining romp in high school romance and fantasy. All of this culminates in this article today.
Welcome to 2014, readers, and also to the return of
nobody’s everybody’s favorite column, Anime Today!
With the new year comes new years resolutions, precious time off from school and work, delicious food (at least for some of us), time with friends and family, perhaps a new outlook on life, a chance to start over, and plenty of year-end clearance sales, but most importantly, a new season of anime! I don’t know about you, but I am particularly excited this season, as there are quite a number of shows airing this winter that I have been looking forward to. These are, namely: the continuation of Golden Time, Nagi no Asukara, season two of Silver Spoon, Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions!, and the brand new Tonari no Seki-kun, The Pilot’s Love Song, Engaged to the Unidentified, Witch Craft Works, and Pupa. Oh, and I’m also watching Kill la Kill still, but we’ll pretend I’m not. All in all, it’s looking to be an enjoyable season!
Despite all this, though, I found myself struggling to come up with material for today’s entry in Anime Today. Sure, as of writing we have already had the first entries into Tonari no Seki-kun, a very cute little comedy, and The Pilot’s Love Song, a prequel to one of my favorite movies, The Princess and the Pilot, as well as a great OVA follow-up to the pantheism-inspired Mushi-shi. However, despite some solid material, I still found myself scratching my head as to how to connect all of this to the theme of Beneath the Tangles: exploring the connections between anime and Christianity. That is, until I realized that I was looking far too closely for something that was already apparent around me!
Goodness, remember all the anime I recommended for the beginning of the year (Spring Anime 2013)? I didn’t end up following any of them. One or two episodes was as far as I got on most of them.
I didn’t even watch the now popular Attack on Titan.
So what did I watch?
For the spring season, as mentioned, a lot of one episode hit and runs from “the Hentai Prince and Stony Cat” (blow up doll sacrifice to a tree….yeeeeah) to “Uta-Pri 2000%” (doki doki 4ever) to “Dansei Bunri no Crime Edge” (scissors!) and Valvrave the Liberator (vampire mechs). Somehow, none of them were holding my interest. Maybe I’m getting too picky in my old age, but even the first episode of Attack on Titan was too much for my nerves. I have watched some rather graphic and violent stuff in the past, but somehow seeing a human eaten was too disturbing for a poor college kid trying to stay upbeat and happy during her last semester.
So I watched happy things, like Hataraku Maou-sama! and My Teen Romantic Comedy Is Wrong as I Expected (aka: SNAFU).
Hataraku Maou-sama! ended up being better than many of us expected. The idea of a great dark demon lord becoming a part timer at a fast food place seems more absurd than interesting, but the show turns into something heartwarming and fun for all the characters. It makes heroes and villain rethink their motivation and be able to, for once, make their own decisions in life.
SNAFU was appealing not because it was an outstanding anime, but because it had great characters, a great plot, and a solid drive to keep it going. The show was clever and fun, yet it also addressed relationships, mainly friendships, and how to make them work in a setting where perfect friendships are impossible.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet was another series I checked out, but it was a mixed bag for me. The characters were interesting, the story was good, but it didn’t strike a chord with me until the ending episodes. The end was great, but I somehow wished we had gotten there somewhat earlier. XD
For summer, there were quite a few unexpectedly good series. And no, I’m not talking about that swimming anime (I mean, it was good to, but er…). The summer of 2013 brought us Uchouten Kazoku, Servant X Service, and Kitaku-bu Katsudou Kiroku.
Uchouten Kazoku was translated by Crunchyroll to “Eccentric Family”, and while not an accurate translation of “uchouten” (which means literally “ecstasy”), I think it captures the show rather well. The kanji for uchouten (有頂天) literally breaks down to “possessing the heavens on your head”. Thus it could be said that a family who possess something like that will probably be a bit eccentric or even idiots (as they do call themselves) that take pride in able to living to their fullest potential, even as tanuki. I would even go so far as to rank this the top anime of 2013 for me.
Servant X Service had a slow and rocky start, even as a light romantic comedy. Granted, it had a tough act to follow from the fans who are still wishing for a Working! Season 3. I actually dropped it for a while because the behaviors of one of the characters in particular irked me too much. But, after hearing it did improve, I picked it up again and found the show develop into a charming and sweet story about people learning about what’s really important in life. Though the stuffed bunny manager may still need some time to sort his own issues out, at least the main characters find some resolution.
Now, for an anime I’m sure I’m the only one who watched, Kitaku-bu Katsudou Kiroku (known as “The Chronicles of the Going Home Club”). This was a fun comedy that referenced everything from “Star Wars” to “Saw” to various other anime, including Giant Robo at one time. The plot was simple, a group of high school girls who formed a “going home club” (a term used in Japanese for someone who is not part of a club), where they address the important issues of life like feeding pigeons, playing video games, and figuring out how to make their anime not canceled.
It was a fun ride and something to follow the fun times that the GJ-bu anime gave me last year.
The summer season would not be complete without KyoAni’s swimming anime Free! that left anime fans everywhere in tears of joy (or sadness). And that’s before we even knew what the anime was about! Free! was like a fun summer; full of pools and swimming kids, sunshine and barbeques. But like every season, summer has to end. It’s sad to see it go, but you know it will be back next year. Or so the rumors say…
And finally, here we are, at the tail end of the chilly fall season, where I’ve actually fallen a bit behind in my watching because of the big months of November and December are always busy for me. But don’t worry, I’ll catch up in January when I have nothing else to do (besides the new winter anime!). XD
But here’s a preview of what I have been trying to keep up with.
Kyoukai no Kanata: KyoAni revives after a long summer of boys in swimsuits to bring us a fantasy series with a blood wielding girl in glasses. One thing I will give KyoAni, no matter the setting, they can still make great story full of friendship, happiness, sadness, love and really pretty animation. While not the best KyoAni show by far, it made me happy to see a supernatural setting again (see: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) as well as a hopeful and happy ending.
I’m a sucker for happy endings.
Yozakura Quartet ~Hana no Uta~: According to some friends, I really need to catch up on this one. I believe this is a reboot of sorts to an older series of the same name, but I’m finding this one much more exciting and thrilling. It has action, drama, and just enough mystery to keep the plot interesting and moving forward at a steady, quick pace. It’s about a town where humans and youkai (spirit monsters) exist in peace. Our main characters have the job of helping to maintain this peace, but there are currently unknown forces trying to disrupt this peace. Our heroes must find out who’s behind it and quickly.
Gingitsune: I’m watching this more for the calm feel and interesting characters. While not as lovely as Natsume Yuujinchou, the day to day adventures that a girl and a shrine herald come across are heartwarming in a way.
Kill la Kill: I feel like my morals are questioned every time I watch a new episode of this show. Undoubtedly created by a studio containing Gainax members that worked on shows like Gurren Lagann, Trigger debuts a full length series that is much different than their kick-starter, Little Witch Academia.
Once this show is over, I hope I’ll be able to put all the pieces together and find some deep meaning in this show. It feels like it’s trying to tell me something, but all the fanservice seems to be burying any important meaning. Granted, Medaka Box still somehow shined even through it’s fanservice.
But overall, Kill la Kill is about breaking out of a mold, living your own life, never giving up and of course, the power of friendship.
Or it could all a conflict of whether clothes are important in life or not. Only time will tell.
So what about you? What were the hit and misses of 2013? What anime did you enjoy this year? Did you have any anime that surprised you?
I am an introvert by nature, and one of my biggest struggles with Christmas is all the parties. I am scared of parties in which I do not know most of the people attending. I have literally had breakdowns before parties. In individual relationships I do well, but I struggle with social interaction. I love talking one-on-one, because I can quickly go deep and find ways to help people on a deeper level. I can’t go deep in a group, because everyone is staying shallow. I am pretty much an open book and I love people, but I am super sensitive to rejection. And growing up, people often would try to dress me up and change me. Now, I have trouble dressing up for events because I think people are trying to erase the real me. I mention all this because, I believe this really fits with Toradora episode 19.
When we are in love, sometimes we try to change or alter who we are to make someone like us. Sometimes, we try to fit in. We all do it. I tend to give up on fitting in, and hide in the background where I feel safer. This is a defense mechanism, and it takes my focus off of what is around me and I get locked in my fear. I miss what is happening to the people I care about. I think this fits with Ryūji as well. He begins this episode trying to invite Minori to their school Christmas Eve party, but Taiga is being her normal self and yelling at him while he is on the phone. Unknown to Ryūji, Taiga is secretly plotting many things. One of which is a conspiracy to get Minori to hangout with Ryūji. Unfortunately, this means she will be spending Christmas alone waiting for Santa. Ryūji learns of part of Taiga’s plan, and rushes in to save Taiga’s Christmas. He does, but then ends up having to run back to school in a Santa Bear costume. He then releases he doesn’t have the gift he left in his pocket, that is with the suit he traded for the bear costume. Taiga starts crying after she kicks Ryūji out, so he will go meet Minori. She starts to chase after him after realizing that she doesn’t want to give him up. She cries outside here condo building and Minori sees from around the street corner. Minori then finds Ryūji and dumps him.
What if what you want isn’t the best thing for you? What if you must give up something for someone else’s sake? In this case, Taiga tries to hookup Ryūji and Minori. Ryūji makes a fool of himself to make sure Taiga isn’t lonely. Minori, basically dumps Ryūji, because she knows Taiga loves him. Is this not love? Love is far more than a feeling or idea. More than a chemical reaction. It is a sacrifice and is often painful. If you love someone, you will sacrifice some of your own wants and desires for their sake, if you don’t, it isn’t love.
I realized this at a party on Sunday. I was hiding in plain sight, avoiding people’s conversations. I decided to go hangout with my nieces who are in town and play with them. I am sure some people thought I was weird for it, but honestly, does that even matter? Because of it, I got to share with some family friends my passion for missions work in Japan. God changed my perspective and even helped me bless people when I was outside my comfort zone. So whether you need to crawl through a friends window in a Santa Bear suit or what ever else, realize that love will push you out of your comfort zone and it will demand sacrifice on your part, but it will be worth it. Love is incredible and is powerful, but the greatest love one can show is giving your life for a friend. This means love will cost you everything, but is it not worth it?
By the way, this is one of Charles favorite anime, if not his favorite (Editor’s Note: Yep, I would say it’s my very favorite!). Merry Christmas to all of you.
Merry Christmas! I hope that you all are having a wonderful time with family and friends today.
I also hope that you’ll spend a few minutes reflecting on the meaning of Christmas – that on this day, we celebrate the most humble and unexpected of births of the One who through grace, would offer humankind the most significant of gifts – life itself.
I’ve been on a hot streak with Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa project- I’ve liked every anime I’ve decided to watch among the recommendations from years past. I figured this year would be the same, as two of the recs I received (Kara no Kyoukai and Garden of Words) were already high on my “to watch” list, and the third, Aoi Bugaku, also piqued my interest.
In the end, I picked the one I’d most been looking forward to watching, Kara no Kyoukai. And I’m glad to report that my streak of winning Secret Santa anime continues.
Kara no Kyoukai (The Garden of Sinners) features Shiki Ryogi, a mysterious woman with incredible killing abilities and a past shrouded in mystery – and one that involves our other protagonist, the mild-mannered Mikiya. Based on a light novel, I watched the original seven main movies, skipping one that was more or less a clip show, as well as the later-released OVA. I also have not seen this year’s newest release, either.
Strangely enough, the series is at its best when it’s also at its most confusing. The first movie begins right in the middle of the story, and it works, as we slowly uncover Shiki’s past and learn the “rules” of this world (something I had to pay particular mind to, being only marginally acquainted with the Type-Moon world). The second movie lends itself even more to this blessed confusion, and it begins the time jumps in the story – in between movies and well as within. This whole framework felt very literary, as certainly early on, and throughout much of the series, I felt I was reading a great work rather than watching animation.
Ever since the mainstream westernization of Japanese culture, Japan, and thus anime, has had a rather fond relationship with the “foreign” holiday of Christmas. Although it is no surprise, the Christmas we see in Japanese animation is a more romantic, commercialized Christmas than what we witness here in the West.* With that said, having an anime set in Paris, a staple city of the West no less, significantly changes the presentation that the Japanese anime show us of Christmas.
Enter Nodame Cantabile: Paris-Hen.
If you are not familiar with the Nodame Cantabile series, Paris-Hen is the second season, after Nodame Cantabile and before Nodame Cantabile Finale. In this chapter, our main characters, Chiaka and ‘Nodame’, are studying and performing music in Paris (a major change from the Japanese setting of the first season). Surrounded by western culture, both geographically and socially, one would expect a bit more of an accurate representation of the Christmas celebration, right? Well, that depends on how you define an “accurate representation of the Christmas celebration.”
Nodame Cantabile: Paris-Hen‘s “Christmas” episode does not function as a stereotypical anime “Christmas episode” as much as simply an episode that happens to take place at Christmas. However, there are merits to this approach. Unlike many anime, the commercialized, idealized Christmas is not what takes the spotlight, but the characters. Therefore, western Christmas traditions can be shown in, perhaps, a bit more demure, realistic light.
Take, for instance, the inclusion of the children’s Christmas play. We are given the opportunity to see a European cathedral and its congregation celebrating the religious roots of Christianity with an ordinary children’s play, something none too common in Japan. Additionally, if you pay attention to the background music in the scenes at the cathedral, you will notice the inclusion of several traditional choral Christmas pieces, namely “O Holy Night” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” In this light, it is nice to see Christmas receiving attention for its original intended purpose, which is quite uncommon in anime.
The flip side of this is that the main characters are portrayed, quite frankly, as outsiders who care quite little about the custom and treat Christmas as merely a cultural celebration.** This is particularly seen in Nodame, who spends most of her Christmas spirit grabbing for attention as a donkey in the pageant and trying to fit an oversized Christmas tree in her apartment.
Despite this, Paris-Hen’s portrayal of Christmas is a refreshing one in the anime world. Santa Claus is never focused upon nor even mentioned (at least that I can recall), the church is treated without disdain, albeit merely as a cultural device, and people who would normally care very little about Christmas reflect how they would treat it: as a fun holiday with little effect on anything else. Christmas, both by the characters and by the writers, is treated simply as another day, though one with a bit of celebration.
You may be wondering why a lack of emphasis on the holiday feels like a breath of fresh air to me, and I would be happy to explain. Christmas, though wonderful for its representation of God’s gift to the world (John 3:16), is not in and of itself a sacred day. Just as the Sabbath was an important day for the Jews and its purpose should be remembered and honored, it should not be done so to the point that our practical actions no longer reflect the purpose of the day. Chiaki and Nodame encounter a powerful turning point in their relationship in Paris-Hen’s Christmas episode, and, just so, Christmas should not be used as an excuse to ignore life.
While Christmas is a day to remember God’s gift to the world, and to reflect that gift to us by giving gifts to others, in the process of reflecting the gift, never forget the reason you are giving, the source that you are reflecting.
On this wonderful night, the celebration of the eve of the coming of Christ, let us remember that Christmas is a day to move forward, just like any other day. Don’t get caught up in the hubbub of commercialism, or the unrealistic expectations of Hollywood, but enjoy the day that God gave us as He has given us every day, which we can wholeheartedly enjoy because He first gave us the greatest gift.