amvs and anime

Anime fans get to gush over their favorite anime pairings by creating music videos and setting it to music they want. Careful editing also creates a pairing that only exists in fandom and not in the show. (Not the case in the example shown here.)

The vast majority make their own while some put up videos done by others like this one which shows the cannon pairing of Tsukushi Makino and Tsukasa Domyoji from ‘Hana Yori Dango” or “Boys Over Flowers”. Most fans point out that they’re not stealing or infringing on copyright since they’re not trying to make any profit from the video. And denial is not only a river in Egypt.

I think this video captures the swoony elements of the pairing. A friend called it cheesy. Oh well.

Woah. Toto, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore

I’m flabbergasted. Really, I am. I’ve just seen the first episode of “Red Garden” and think I’ve stumbled onto something interesting this season. I heard about this show from an anime fan (who else?) and agree that the show is unusual to say the least.

You wouldn’t know what it was from the intro song which sucked big time. Some Jpop songs just need to go away. Far far away. Maybe to another galaxy.

The episode begins with men in suits driving several teenage girls to their homes I suppose since you see them being put to bed. But another car rams one of the vehicles. Two men break into the car and kill the men in suits escorting an unconscious girl with long orange hair. A man in white looks at the prone girl and smirks.

The next time we see the girl she is dead and her body has been dumped in a wooded area in New Jersey. The cops are swarming about the place and we hear that this is the fifth girl found like this. They don’t know yet if it’s a suicide or a murder.
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The four other girls we saw earlier, Rachel, Claire, Rose and Kate, have no memory of what happened that night.They’re groggy. One is nauseous. Another falls asleep while standing up. Turns out they all go to this New York school where the hall monitors are called “Grace” and are led by this little Miss Perfect called Paula. Kate appears to be a new member of “Grace” favored by Paula.

The dead girl was Lisa and she also was a student here. School gets dismissed early because of the terrible news. Kate is devastated. It seems Lisa was her friend and told Kate recently of landing a boyfriend she met in Coney Island. Now here is where things take a weird turn. A weeping Kate wanders the school grounds and sings a mournful tune. I didn’t know if I had been dropped into the middle of a musical. She stops warbling and then the episode continues. Eh? At least no dancers gyrate around Kate.

Instead, a horde of black butterflies surround her. Rachel who is walking along with her posse sees them too. The butterflies, which are only visible to the four girls, lure them to a park. Claire asks the others if they also don’t remember last night. They get creeped out.

A man and a woman appear from the shadows.The woman introduces herself as their teacher and says the girls died last night. She tells them that a man is approaching and orders the girls to kill him with their bare hands. The man runs at them on all fours. They scream.

I was hooked despite the terrible songs used for the intro and the ending. The ending song was a Jrock tune with terrible lyrics and a horrible beat. The character designs are well, unique too. OK, I’ll be honest. The people in this show are ugly. I don’t have a problem about the characters being long and lanky but they sport really big noses. You don’t notice the exaggerated noses until you see them in profile. Poor Rachel looks like a clown because she has a bulbous nose. Other than that, they look fine when not in profile.

But the storyline is very promising. There’s murder, mystery and weird messenger butterflies. Woohoo! I hope “Red Garden” doesn’t disappoint later on. But for now I think I kinda like this weird place. Move over Toto and don’t hog the Pocky.

A moment of weakness

One of the benefits of suddenly finding myself on vacation is that I can just take off and haunt the anime store whenever I want. Of course I can afford to be more discriminating as well and not just borrow any DVD or tape just to get it out of Mr. Rival’s hands.Take that you fiend! Unlike you I can afford to be nice.

I’m following so many series I’ve lost count. I think I’m up to 20 shows. Maybe more. I’ve decided to focus on a dozen right now and just catch up on the others later.
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One of my current favorites is “Ghost Hunt” which chronicles the cases handled by the Shibuya Psychic Research. SPR is comprised of director Kazuya Shibuya, his assistant Lin, and part-time employee/high school student Mai Taniyama. Shibuya also uses a TV medium, a shrine maiden, an Australian exorcist and a monk who plays in a band.

Shibuya is just a teen but very smart, ultra confident and arrogant. He insults Mai a lot. She has this crush on him but isn’t afraid to sass him back and even bestowed the nickname, “Naru”, on him which is short for narcissist.

Anyway, the last case I saw involved the strange goings on at a high school. The case ended at episode 17 which I shall recount for the benefit of the peanut gallery.

A black dog attacks students, a sickening smell pervades one classroom, weird things are seen and there’s a twisted version of a Ouija board that the students play. It turns out everything is linked to a freshman who committed suicide in the fall who was into the occult and felt oppressed by the faculty and administration. Mai, whose dreams often show clues to the cases, tells Naru that the spirits are eating each other which leads him to deduce that someone used a variation of an old Chinese curse.

The target of the curse, which is fueled unwittingly by the students playing that odd version of a Ouija board, is one of the teachers – a spiteful mean man. There are only two options open to our ghost hunters. Let the curse kill the teacher or turn back the curse onto its creator. Since the student who started it is dead, the curse will rebound back onto the students who played that Ouija-like game. A horrified Mai tries to stop Naru and Lin because she feels the students thought they were just playing a harmless game and were not intending to kill anyone. Naru tells her everyone has to accept responsibility for their actions and thwarts her attempts. She rages at him and calls him a murderer.

What Lin, who is a diviner, actually does is return the curse back to wooden effigies representing the students. Naru doesn’t tell any of them this until Lin is finished because Lin wasn’t sure he could ensure the students’ safety. But it works. Mai is chastened. As she reports to Naru about the condition of the students who didn’t play the game, he apologizes for saying harsh things to her. She is dumbfounded because this is Naru who seldom admits he is wrong. It’s not fair, she says. She wanted to apologize but he did it first. He takes all the good moments, she points out. Naru smiles at her and she blushes in shock. She has never seen him smile except in her dream state when the dream Naru shows up to help her out.

It was such a sweet moment. Naru and Mai looked so cute my inner fangirl started squealing. Then reason reasserted itself and I throttled my inner fangirl to silence. It was a moment of weakness I assure you brought on by too little sleep and too many hours listening to angsty alternative music.

Mai and Naru forever! Uh, excuse me while I choke someone. Now git. Nothing to see here.

Love at First Kick: The Saga of Poor Girl Makino and Rich Boy Domyoji

In honor of Buy-Me-Roses-Or-We’re-Through Day, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day, I bring you an oldie but goodie shoujo series called “Hana Yori Dango” or “Boys Over Flowers.” The anime came out in the early ’90s so the animation can be crude-looking in some spots. The animators also used a palette of soft colors so the background looks like it was rendered in watercolors. And the switch from violin and piano background music to a jazzy soundtrack midway through the series seemed jarring to me.

But it’s the storyline and characters that draw one to Hanadan as it’s called by fans. Some fans even go so far as to say that the story has elements of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” because of the clash between the hero and heroine who come from two very different social backgrounds. I love Austen and have read “Pride and Prejudice” a dozen times but I don’t agree with these fans’ assessment.

The storyline in “Hana Yori Dango” is commonly found in any soap opera, romantic fiction or love song. But the series makes it work because the characters are likeable and not one-dimensional. The heroine is Tsukushi Makino, aka the weed, a poor girl attending Etoiku which is a school for the rich and privileged. She tries to keep a low profile until she and her friend have a run-in with the F4, the four boys who run the school. Anyone who crosses the F4 gets a red tag in their lockers which is a signal for the rest of the students to bully the victims.

But Tsukushi is different. She fights back and even kicks the F4′s violent leader, Tsukasa Domyoji, in the head. She has a crush on Rui Hanazawa, the quiet introverted member of the F4 and Tsukasa’s best friend. Tsukasa later becomes smitten with her and the resulting love triangle leads to a tissue break or two for the viewers.

The series shows how Tsukasa’s character evolves to make himself worthy of Tsukushi. Our tough gal doesn’t want to be protected like some simpering fool and she resists falling for this arrogant rich boy. But she realizes he isn’t so bad after all especially when he keeps saving her.

Then there is the matter of his mother, Kaede Domyoji, who does everything in her power to split Tsukushi and Tsukasa apart.

Bear in mind that the anime ended long before the manga so the ending is different from the comics. Actually I prefer the manga now since the artwork vastly improves as the series goes on and there are more twists to the story in this version.

“Hana Yori Dango” by Yoko Kamio also spawned a movie, a Taiwanese drama called “Meteor Garden” and a Japanese drama which is currently in its second season.

When my inner girly girl surfaces, I placate her by reading the manga or watching the anime again with plenty of tissues on hand. This is classic shoujo anime that is worth viewing even if the animation looks dated now. Both DVDs of the show and the manga have been released in the U.S. by Viz Media.

So get swept along by the drama and romance of “Hana Yori Dango”/”Boys Over Flowers”. I promise the effects will last longer than any flowers or chocolates you’ll get today.

All Hail Satoshi Kon!

Satoshi Kon makes films which happen to be animated. He stands out from the rest of the pack with his choice of subject matter, the depth of his films and his ability to tell a story in a very interesting way. He also uses films to make social commentary.

I may not like all of his work but I appreciate the man’s talent.

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This native of Hokkaido, Japan is the director of “Perfect Blue”, “Tokyo Godfathers” and “Millennium Actress.” He also directed “Paranoia Agent”, a television series that aired on Cartoon Network. I wasn’t too wowed with the ending and the explanation offered in “Paranoia Agent” plus I guessed who the killer was midway through “Perfect Blue.” But “Millennium Actress” and “Tokyo Godfathers” are among my personal favorites.

“Perfect Blue” is about Mima Kirigoe who decides to leave her J-pop idol image behind and become a serious actress. Along the way, she becomes the target of someone who does not approve of her new image. People around her start getting killed, a man stalks her and someone posing as “Mima” writes an online diary.

I thought this film was more or less a murder mystery set in the world of Japanese entertainment. I didn’t think it was that exceptional but I liked the way the characters actually look like real people and was intrigued with the whole idol-making process. I gave the mystery plot a B.

In “Tokyo Godfathers”, Kon tells the tale of three homeless people – Gin the drunk, Hana the former drag queen and Miyuki the teenage runaway – who find a baby in the trash during Christmas Eve. The film details their search to find the child’s parents and reveals the reasons why these unlikely godfathers became denizens of the streets. I think this is Kon’s most accessible work. The main characters are good, decent people despite their flaws and they really care for each other. The humor can be broad in some scenes. But the film also takes a jab at the way Japanese society views and treats the homeless.

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But it is “Millennium Actress” that touched me the most. To me, it’s about the search for a long lost love and also a loving tribute to Japanese films. Other folks might see it differently.

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In “Millennium Actress”, director Tachibana manages to land an interview with Chiyoko Fujiwara, a famous actress long retired from the business. He wants to do a documentary on her. She tells him her story and literally takes him along on her memories. I’m not kidding. We see Chiyoko in various stages of her career and Tachibana invariably pops up dressed appropriately for the period. We later find out why he is such an admirer of Chiyoko.

I enjoyed this film because I can relate to Chiyoko’s search for someone she loved and lost. Sometimes, the search takes on more importance than the object of one’s affections who becomes an idealized image. Such a trek can end in heartbreak. I know so.

Kon’s next film is called, “Paprika” which is based on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui. I haven’t read the book and have only seen stills of the movie which is supposed to be more surreal than Kon’s previous works. Anime News Network reported that “Paprika” will be shown in certain U.S. cities and will be released on DVD too. I can’t wait.

I consider Satoshi Kon an artist who uses animation as the medium to express his creativity.

Dueling geeks

I wonder if I’m in competition with another anime geek who watches many of the same shows as I do. When I drop by the anime store, a lot of the fansubbed tapes I want seem to have been borrowed by this guy who has a bad habit of returning them late. Coincidence? I think not.

If this were one of those action shows geared for boys, we would be rivals. Hmm. Let’s call him Mr. Rival then.

This weekend I swung by the anime store and much to my surprise, all the latest episodes for “Bartender”, “Kekaishi”, “D. Gray-man”, “Death Note”, “Ghost Hunt” and “Saiunkoku Monogatari” were in. Of course I borrowed them all. Muwahahaha! Take that Mr. Rival, I thought. Actually I don’t think he watches “Bartender” or “Saiunkoku” but I digress.

Anyway, I think I celebrated way too early since one of the “Kekaishi” tapes was mislabeled and turned out to be this lame anime called, “Lovely Idol” about a bunch of girls who are Japanese pop stars. Oh the horror, the horror. I returned that tape post haste and got my $3 back.

Somewhere out there Mr. Rival is laughing his head off.

But unlike him, I am rarely late in returning tapes or DVDs. I can watch 24 episodes in one sitting if need be. (Of course my brother doesn’t think that’s something to be proud of especially when my eyes look bloodshot.) I know what it is to wait and wait and wait for the next episode of a show and I have no wish to put fellow fans through “anime withdrawal.” That’s just evil.

As for me, I spent a chunk of my weekend watching anime with snacks and volumes of manga next to me. Life was good. And how was your weekend?