Um I don’t remember signing up for pysch class…

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What in tarnation is wrong with anime nowadays? Not only is there a whole bunch of harem anime that are pointless and stupid, there seems to be more than enough pretentious shows polluting the airwaves.

I started out with such high hopes for “Ghost Hound” then as the series progressed I became more disappointed. I have no complaints with the quality of the animation which is high but the plot is just too convoluted and cloaked in way too much psychobabble. Like a middle school student can just talk about a psych theory at the drop of a hat let alone understand such yappings about the id and the nature of
memory.

Plus the droning on and on about this and that theory was enough to make me scream. The show drags when this happens and it occurs every episode.

The show tries to end with a big flourish by focusing on a cult religion and how the spirits of the mountain and of the faux organic beings created in the locally-based lab team up to help quash these nutjobs – literally. It was too late for me at that point. I didn’t much care if Taro or his friends succeeded in saving the elementary school girl who gets possessed by an ancient God. Don’t ask.

Avoid this pretentious yawnfest if you can.

Cool opening song to a sometimes high falutin show


Here’s the opening song to “Ghost Hound” which hands down wins the award for best production values out of the slew of anime shows aired in Japan this fall. Thanks to a YouTuber by the name of “explodedrunes”, I am able to show you the quality of the animation used for the series.

For some weird reason, I feel the need to dress all in black and snap my fingers a la Beatnik whenever I hear this song. I also dig the two-toned ghostly cat that passes by the hero. Cool.

Although the series makes me want to scratch my head sometimes with its talk about the subconscious, out of body experiences and the mysteries of the human mind. I don’t remember signing up for a psych class when I opted to watch this show.

Using dreams to unravel a mystery

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One look at “Ghost Hound” and you know what show got the bulk of the production money in the fall anime season. I’ve seen the first episode and I’m interested enough to want to see the succeeding episodes.

Production values are high on this show and the animation is crisp and beautiful. And if the characters look similar to the characters from that other supernatural show, “Jigoku Shoujo”, it’s because the same person did the design.

The story itself is intriguing. Our main guide to this world is Taro Komori, 14, who has out of body experiences when he falls asleep. He lives in a mountain community with his father, the local brewer, and his mother, who looks like she’s going to break down any time soon. His sister is dead.

Taro dreams about his and his sister’s kidnapping 11 years ago. I’m assuming the pretty girl lying on a cot near a young Taro is his sibling. She mouths something but he cannot make it out.

The new school psychologist, a cliche creepy-looking man, asks him if he still records his dreams and encourages him to keep doing it. Perhaps this was a suggested treatment for the boy? The viewer isn’t told yet.

We meet other kids in the area who will eventually have a tie to Taro. There’s the transfer student, Masayuki Nakajima, who is so new on campus he’s still wearing the uniform of his old school. He is trying desperately to become pals with Taro and Makoto Ogami, the moody boy who seldom goes to class.

Then there’s the still unnamed grade school girl who can see spirits and Taro’s soul when he has an out of body experience.

What is the connection between all of them? Why does Taro’s soul visit things that happened in the past? Who is this weird little girl who sees things?

Here’s hoping the other episodes will provide the answers. Or I will be reduced to muttering a tv colleague’s worn out phrase, “It raises more questions than answers.”

Anime tidbits on the run…

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OK I admit I’ve been a tad bit tardy in updating this blog. Life and work have been getting in the way of my anime watching and yapping about anime-related subjects lately. Sorry. My online boss is probably going to bean me soon with my old copy of “Oh My Goddess” which I sneakily gave away to a friend and somehow he palmed it off on her. Muwahahaha. I detest that lame show for reasons too numerous to list.
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I enjoy reading Zac Bertschy’s column, “Answerman” for Anime News Network because he is funny and sometimes has an acerbic take on the anime business and its fandom. Just today I learned a new term from him. Seems those people who hang around the manga section of bookstores reading for hours and blocking other people’s access are called “manga cows.” They graze there all day. Get it?

http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/answerman/2007-08-17

Was wandering around Fry’s Electronics in Industry last weekend in search of bargain compact discs when I saw that the first volume of “Shonen Onmyouji” and “Mushi-shi” are out. I liked these shows when I saw the fansubs so I am definitely saving moolah to buy the licensed copies. I reviewed “Shonen” on Dec. 21, 2006 while I talked about how much I liked “Mushi-shi” on Jan. 29, 2007.

I included images of the offiicial DVD covers for both. These shows are worth a look. “Shonen” is entertaining enough for a boy’s action anime with a dash of romantic interest for the girls. “Mushi-shi” is a keeper. It’s in a class by itself – an unusual anime that doesn’t fit the traditional anime genres and comes with its own mythos.

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.

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.

When things are not what they seem

A young woman rarely speaks to spare her fellow villagers from the sickness spreading in their mountain village. Huts, people, pottery etc are covered in what looks like rust. It immobilzes people and makes living a misery.

A white-haired traveler who drops by the village is astonished at the way the rest of the residents shun and treat the girl. He is more astonished when he hears her speak. Her voice sounds like metals scraping together. But unlike the others he proposes a solution. And it works.

The traveler is none other than Ginko, the protagonist of “Mushi-shi”. The title refers to what Ginko does for a living. He deals with Mushi, those creatures of varying forms that very few see but definitely affect animals and people. Several Mushi are parasitic, some kill while a few can endow people with certain abilities.

Unlike his fellow Mushi-shi (which apparently translates to master of Mushi), Ginko tries not to automatically kill the creatures unless there is no other solution to the problem.

“Mushi-shi”, which is based on a manga of the same title, is an unusual anime. There is no ending song, no main story line, no major explosions, no cutesy characters and no fanservice. What you get are Ginko’s adventures which are usually wrapped up by the end of the show. The story why he ended up with white hair and only one green eye is explained earlier in the series.

This was one of my favorites last year because of its uniqueness and the otherworldly elements it contains. You get a sense that this is reality viewed through a different lens. The characters are drawn like normal people (you won’t find rainbow-hued hair here) but they seem to exist in another time period although Ginko wears modern clothes. Many of the villages he visits are found in places like the mountains, the forests and on islands.

My father is a big fan of Akira Kurosawa and Japanese literature so I spent a considerable amount of my childhood being exposed to such works. All this blather just means that I am very comfortable with something like “Mushi-shi” and easily accepted the premise about the Mushi.

When I first started watching the series, I was strongly reminded of a book I read called, “John the Balladeer” because of the way the hero dealt with bizarre creatures in mountain settings complete with mists and weird incidents. The book chronicles the adventures of John, a wanderer with a silver-stringed guitar who helps the folks living in the Ozarks fight supernatural beings. I think Manly Wade Wellman wrote the short stories. Loved those tales.

But I digress. Don’t watch “Mushi-shi” if you need a dose of things that go kaboom or angsty teens who must save the world with the latest, greatest giant robot. But if you want to try something slow-paced almost dream-like and very different, give this show a chance. You just might like it.

The show has been licensed by Funimation but I don’t know when the release date will be.

Both the manga and the anime are popular in Japan. There’s even a live-action movie. According to Anime News Network, the film is being shown at Sundance and has drawn the interest of companies who want to distribute it outside Japan. Let’s see if that actually happens. Hope they change the English title by then because I don’t like the current English title of “Bugmaster.” Geez how terribly pedestrian and how wrong since a Mushi isn’t a bug though some may look like it.

In the realm of darkness

Vampires, ghosts and things that go bump in the night remain a staple of anime since there’s always an audience for shows about the supernatural.

One that’s readily available on DVD is “Requiem from the Darkness.” Set in the end of the Edo period, Momosuke is a young man who wants to be a writer and travels collecting ghostly tales he hopes to include in a book called “100 Stories”.

He meets Mataichi the Karmic Enforcer, Ogin the Puppeteer and Nagamimi the Bird Caller Mataichi is a short man sporting bandages, Ogin is a beautiful woman and Nagamimi is a huge man who towers over his companions. But there is more to this group than meets the eye. The trio actually rout out those who commit crimes and thought they got away with it. Judgement is pronounced on the sinner.

Momosuke becomes entangled with the trio and sometimes get in their way to his cost.

The show’s look is unusual, almost stylized. Other characters are crudely rendered as if they don’t matter. The settings and the backgounds get the same treatment too during the series giving the impression that Momosuke is in a nightmare world. And perhaps he is.

It’s not meant to make you scream or shiver. And not all of the episodes are good but the series works for the most part. I don’t think the opening and closing songs fit the show but that’s just minor quibbling on my part.

The show deals with themes like incest, prostitution and torture. Definitely not for kids.

Wreaking vengeance a la Alexandre Dumas

Im still sniffling after watching “Gankutsuou” tonight. It’s a re-telling of “The Count of Monte Christo”, Alexandre Dumas’ tale of love, betrayal and vengeance.

Albert de Morcerf and Franz d’Epinay are young Parisian aristocrats on a holiday in the anything-goes Luna when they encounter the wealthy and mysterious Count of Monte Christo.

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The Count lends a hand when Albert is kidnapped and held for ransom by local crooks. The teen is soon under the spell of the blue-skinned and fanged Count and willingly agrees to introduce the man to Parisian society once he and his retinue arrive.

But as Albert would later learn, there are no coincidences when it comes to the Count.

In this version, the story is set in the future so there are spaceships, other planetary societies and giant suits of armor that fight duels. The show is about Albert and what happens to him, his family and friends because of a betrayal in the past.

Yes, several things in the book get changed in the anime especially two major plot points. But it is a re-telling so purists needn’t get their knickers in a twist. Hollywood has done so much worse in its versions of classic literature. Don’t even get me started about that.

Anyway, back to “Gankutsuou”. What sets this anime apart from the pack is how unique it looks. For instance, the clothing of the characters and their hair are rendered in designs and patterns. Anna Sui is credited as special costume designer for the show.

Everything else looks lavish and colorful. Beautiful backgrounds, nice CGIs.

A pal of mine considered the style of the animation distracting. I suppose some people might think that but to me, animation is a medium that lends itself to experimentation. Why not push the boundaries? When it succeeds, the results are worth it like “Gankutsuou.”

It also helps that the story is such a classic. Edmond Dantes was framed for a crime he didn’t commit, got sent to prison, lost his fiance plus his father suffered and died penniless. It was Dantes’ friends who betrayed him. Old sins would cast long shadows on the next generation.

Now if you can’t feel anything for what befell poor Dantes, then you’re not human but a hunk of rock.

Perhaps as a nod to its literary source, each episode begins with a short intro by a man speaking in French. Who this narrator is becomes clearer as the show progresses. (I watched the show in Japanese with English subtitles. If you watch the English dub, the narrator speaks in English.)

The opening song grates on my nerves though. The lyrics sound too hokey. It would have worked better as an instrumental piece. The closing song isn’t too shabby though and fits the revenge theme of the anime.

Anime is more than just cutesy school girls sporting unreal hair colors or giant robots smashing each other, it also serves to expose people to literature. Who knows? They might be enticed to read the original versions.