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Having finally seen Future Boy Conan, I’ve come to the conclusion that this 1977 anime is probably the work that most directly represents two of the major themes in Miyazaki Hayao’s earlier works, environmentalism and Marxism. People are likely more familiar with the former, which figures prominently into works such as Nausicaa, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke, while the latter tends to be a bit more subtle. While the characters of Future Boy Conan aren’t rolling out banners with pictures of Karl Marx on it, the criticism of capitalism and the dangers of “unthinking” technological progress as associated with a post-industrial society are too strong to ignore in Future Boy Conan. It makes for an interestingly political work, though perhaps what is equally impressive is that the series does not neglect to build up a rich cast of characters, an interesting world, and a sense of fun and wonder, whether is characters are traveling on land, sea, or air, that perhaps even contributes to that Marxist underpinning.

Future Boy Conan takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth that has had most of its land masses submerged due to the use of “super electromagnetic weapons,” said to be even more powerful than nuclear weapons. At the center of the narrative is Conan, a boy whose life of hunting and fishing has granted him unusual (almost superhuman) strength and swiftness, and Lana, a telepath girl who holds the secret to reviving the limitless power source that is “solar energy,” and together the two must evade capture by the technological city of Industria, whose leader Lepka wants to use solar energy for his own selfish desires. Here, the series’ warnings about the abuse of technology and issue of greed are clear, but this is also contrasted with scenes of Conan using his nature boy powers to baffle his enemies like a freakishly powerful Dennis the Menace tormenting Mr. Wilson. The result is a work that is clearly in its championing of communal lifestyles and living closer to nature, but I can’t tell if the series’ own sense of action and adventure make for a “Trojan Horse” through which these political concepts are introduced, or if those fun and more lighthearted elements are the very means by which these arguments are made.

Much like some of the more lighthearted Studio Ghibli films, Future Boy Conan can be approached in a variety of ways. Certainly it can be seen as this highly political work. It can even be watched for historical or cultural significance, being an early work from not only Miyazaki but also the other big Ghibli director Takahata Isao. However, these need not be the primary reasons to watch Future Boy Conan, as it’s just as strong in terms of its sprawling sense of epic adventure and its attention to animation and even just the fact that it’s a simply an engaging story. Outside of its original context or the Marxist and environmentalist themes, Future Boy Conan is extremely approachable without needing to be a fan of older anime.

If you do pay attention to the political aspects of Future Boy Conan, however, then there is much to chew on. Nowhere is the criticism of capitalism stronger than in Lepka’s characterization. His problem isn’t just that he is clearly a horrible human being, but rather that his time spent at the “top” means that he has no conception of how people really are. To him, the masses comprise an amorphous engine meant to serve him, and he has no idea what it really means to be a leader. This also ties in with the series’ warnings about abuse of technology, as it is through his reliance on technology as a means to control the lower classes that he is increasingly both literally and metaphorically distanced from them. in this respect, it’s especially noteworthy that the prospect of a renewable energy source, a dream of humanity both inside and outside of fiction, is viewed with skepticism in Future Boy Conan. Although I don’t agree entirely with its message, the fact that it encourages us to be wary of the possibility that limitless energy might not satisfy those whose ambitions are to always have more is a warning message that’s still relevant today.

I find it kind of funny that I finished Future Boy Conan not long after having seen The Wind Rises, which is said to be Miyazaki’s final feature-length film. Whereas The Wind Rises is partly about the costs of living according to one’s passions, Future Boy Conan strongly exhibits a more youthful sense of idealism with its post-apocalyptic environment that makes way for what is more or less a communist agrarian utopia. Here is a man who has changed, and if we take his works each as their own “Miyazaki,” I wonder what kind of debate they would get into.

It’s been a few weeks since I took the opportunity to see Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. For personal reasons I’ve been unable to write about it until now, which makes me a little sad since my memories of the movie are no longer as fresh. Nevertheless, the film made such an impression on me that I can still remember its effects on me, the mild trembling and near-existential crisis I experienced after leaving the theater that I feel compelled to write about it. This is because while other Miyazaki films have been beautiful, profound, poignant, heart-warming, and intelligent, The Wind Rises is challenging.

I’m going to spoil quite a bit. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend this movie.

The Wind Rises is a highly fictionalized account of the life of Horikoshi Jirou, inventor of the “Zero,” the most famous Japanese plane of World War II. We first see him as a child in love with the idea of flight, though sadly unable to ever truly take to the skies due to his terrible eyesight. Instead, in a dream where he meets Caproni, a famous Italian aeronautical engineer, he realizes that if he can’t fly the planes, then at least he can build them. The movie is thus the story of a man with a passion that stays with him throughout his life. The main issue is that he lives in the 1930s, and Japan already has an alliance with Nazi Germany. We know what Jirou’s passion will lead to, and this aspect of his story is how The Wind Rises confronts its audience with difficult questions.

There is a sort of romantic image surrounding the artist who lives for his craft, and over and over again the movie shows how Jirou would rather not think of anything but the plane itself. However, The Wind Rises juxtaposes this quality in Jirou with the era in which he lives. Given the imperialist and militaristic nature of Japan at the time as depicted in the film, it is clear where Jirou’s inventions will eventually take him, and yet given the context of his society, it’s also the only opportunity he really has to fulfill his dream. He makes the best of his situation, pursuing his life-long goal using the means available to him, and though on a personal level this can be seen as the emblematic of the adaptability of the creative human mind, it also comes at a very real cost of millions of lives, claimed essentially by Jirou’s imagination. At the end of the movie when Jirou returns to his dreams of the sky and we see the clouds in the sky transform into his greatest invention, there’s a clear sense of tension on the screen between the beauty of the Zero and the ugliness inextricably tied to it. This is why when I see people accuse this film of being militaristic, I feel as if they did not bother to actually see what was happening in the film.

Can art truly be made for art’s sake? This is one the central questions of the film, and The Wind Rises answers that this passion, as much as we might want to bottle it and isolate it from the world, is nevertheless still a part of it. Even the refusal to compromise ends up being a type of compromise in itself, and the film makes this point clear not only through Jirou’s profession but also his personal life. Falling in love with a woman suffering from tuberculosis in a time when there was no cure, throughout the movie they make sacrifices between their immediate and future happiness. When ultimately they decide to live together despite knowing that this will shorten her lifespan, the parallel is clearly established that, whether it is at home or in another country, Jirou’s passion in a sense destroyed lives. And yet, it is impossible to see Jirou as a “villain,” or as morally reprehensible. There is no guarantee that we would not have done the same thing, living in the here and now while hoping for a brighter future. Jirou’s choices cannot simply be divided into “right and wrong.”

The very fact that Miyazaki himself is an artist making some of the most successful animated films ever makes the ideas of The Wind Rises feel both self-critical and targeted toward society at large. One of the more interesting decisions for the movie was that Anno Hideaki, creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, animator on Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and otaku extraordinaire was cast as the voice of Jirou. Anno is no voice actor, and it shows in his amateurish performance, but I think this was a deliberate choice because Anno is also a “passionate person” as an otaku. Evangelion was Anno’s attempt to tell otaku to get out there and confront the world, and in certain ways the opposite happened, so I believe that Anno in the role of the protagonist speaks to the idea that otaku are generally considered obsessive people in some sense “cut off” from society. There is an earthquake at the beginning of the film, and when the ground begins to crumble and shake, it looks like the old Gainax style more than that of Ghibli, and I have to wonder if it was animated in this way to call attention to the otaku. As with Jirou, the question would be if we can call otaku a pocket of society, a subculture, or if that passion should be contextualized. It’s a confrontation with both otaku and non-otaku.

I saw this movie at a period in my life where many things are in flux. The future often looks uncertain, the present looks frightening, and more than a few people I’ve known have become ill or worse in recent years, and this movie hits me hard in those areas. Moreover, as someone who has spent his life in creative endeavors, whether it’s art or writing, I feel as if this movie peered straight into my soul, asked me about my life, and forced me to ask myself what a human being really is. In spite of this—or perhaps because of this—however, The Wind Rises may very well have become my favorite Miyazaki film ever (which has been Laputa: Castle in the Sky for the longest time). In fact, when I think about it, the last time I felt this profoundly affected by any anime was the masterful Turn A Gundam. If I had to summarize my thoughts on the film in three words it would be: beautiful, deep, painful. 

Blogger/Translator’s Note: This is the long-past-due followup to the translation posted by kransom over at his blog, welcome datacomp.

As stated by kransom, the translation is based on a lecture by freelance writer Kaoru Kumi and included in a book he has written about Miyazaki. More information can be found in the introduction of part 1. For the sake of consistency and other things, all names in the essay are first name first, unlike my usual style.

Incidentally, just as we have translated his writings from Japanese into English, Kumi has translated an English book into Japanese, “Astro Boy and Anime Come to the Americas” by Fredd Ladd and Harvey Deneroff. More information about the Japanese translation can be found here, and you can purchase the original version from Amazon.

So without further ado, Part 2.

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Actually, the Nausicaa manga also frequently uses these techniques to create a sense of smoothness between panels, the difference with Yotsuba&! being that the sequence from Nausicaa relies on speech, while the one in Yotsuba&! relies on sound in order to keep the flow continuous. In short, this sequence utilizes a spoken word to smooth the sensory incongruity between the two panels.

Volume 7 p.83

This is the impressive scene where Master Yupa steps in to stop the conflict between the citizens of Dorok and the remnants of the Tolmekian Army at the cost of his own life. Panel 1 and 2 show the boy witnessing the death of Yupa while being carried on monk’s back, while Panel 3 shows him rushing over to Yupa. Here, the cut between Panel 2 and Panel 3 is B’. With a B’ cut however, there should fundamentally be a continuation of the overall action, as is the case with the prior example of Shirley, which is covered by the action where the young maid quickly makes a cup of tea for her master. However, in this example, with panel 2 you have the boy sitting on the man’s shoulders without moving, and then with panel 3 he’s running. Technically, his overall action has been interrupted between these two panels.

However, you can see a line of dialogue in panel 2 where the boy says, “Put me down. I can walk.” Thanks to this line, the overall action is continued. Let’s try covering up the line, if you like (Here, the lecturer puts is hand over the projector to cover the words “Put me down. I can walk.”). Even with this, there’s nothing hindering the transition between Panels 2 and 3, but now don’t you sense something amiss? It’s like a baby stroller being pushed along and then suddenly hitting a bump in the road. But when you add in the line, “Put me down. I can walk,” (moves hand away) now it becomes smooth. The overall action of “rushing over to Yupa” continues in panels 2 and 3. In other words, B’ is established here. I think it subtly proves that Miyazaki cares a lot about having his readers enjoy Nausicaa and has a good sense of what will improve that enjoyment.

Nausicaa also has a clever use of Pattern B”. Let’s see the beginning of the old edition of New Treasure Island once more. If you compare the two, you will find that the two use the same Pattern B”. Here, Nausicaa and Chikuku are returning to a Dorok airship via air. In New Treasure Island the vehicle runs along hastily, while in this scene from Nausicaa, Nausicaa, Chikuku, and the monk are in a rush. That’s right, they both fall into Pattern B”.

Volume 5 p.62

“You’ve come back, too!?” “Chikuku won’t run away!” “A map! I’ve traced the movement of the mold.” “This way!” [CL1] These three panels look perfectly continuous since their dialogue goes on, in spite of the discontinuity in physical action in these panels. It’s the same technique as the one in the three-legged race I referred to earlier.[1]

Speaking of Pattern B”, I know there is another example in Nausicaa.


Volume 5 p. 87

The world of humans is on the verge of destruction, and with Teto in tow Nausicaa goes on a solitary flight. She lands on high ground and decides to wait for the army of Ohmu, who know the key to the situation at hand. The action in these six panels is not continuous, and so one might determine these panels to be an A” sequence[2]. And yet, you can follow these panels smoothly, as if you were watching a movie, in spite of the lack of speech or sound to give you a sense of continuity. Actually, while these panels do not follow Nausicaa’s actions continuously, including how she lands on the ground and how she shoulders her kite, you can still follow those actions smoothly because the overall action of ‘her swooping down from the sky and landing near some high ground and then walking towards it’ remains continuous, or is uninterrupted. And so you sense that they are still continuous. This is Pattern B”.

Let’s look at another example of B”.

Emma Volume 5 (Mori Kaoru/Enterbrain) p.76-77

This is Emma. I’m impressed with this author, who takes a total of four pages just to draw Emma changing into her maid uniform. However, when you look at it, the omissions in the actions that happen from panel to panel are assuredly there. If the sequence were to be drawn in its entirety, a mere four pages would not have sufficed. When you read it, however, it looks perfectly continuous. The overall action of “changing from plain clothes into maid clothes” is done consistently, and the small actions which are not drawn instead take place in your head and complement the action. This is a typical example of Pattern B”[3].

By the way, recall that earlier I explained how the Pattern B you see in movies theoretically cannot be replicated in manga, and that in order to do so you would need some way of falsely approximating the process. Actually, it is not impossible. Here, the monk points his gun at the sky and fires. Then, the subordinates up in the sky make their presence known.

Volume 4 p.124

The sequence from Panel 2 to Panel 3 is key here. If you were to put this into a movie, in panel 2 the bullet would appear to be flying OUT of the screen, and then a cut would happen. Then, in panel 3 you would suddenly see the bullet flying, or, to put it differently, you would see the bullet flying IN when the officers in the sky riding the flying turtle are startled by it. That’s the exemplary editing it would need if it were put into cinema. Simply put, this is a Pattern B sequence. Pattern B may be theoretically not replicable in manga, but take a good look at Panel 3. The trajectory of the bullet is shown by the smoke trail. “Wha… What kind of bullet was that?!” [CL2] exclaims the astonished monk. Indeed, it’s a little more like a rocket. Thanks to this however, you can now tell with just one look that Panel 3 is an IN shot. Wow, this is definitely like a B sequence from a movie!

Incidentally, this kind of smoke is associated with the “action lines” which you might remember from Zipang, where it is used in aerial battles. Contrasting with the physically impossible and fanciful assemblage of lines, the smoke in Nausicaa has a physical existence. It does not feel insubstantial, but rather actually quite real and natural. If we analyze the transitions in those five panels, they are A’ B’ D’ A'; in other words, they are all single-dash (‘) sequences and not double-dash (”) ones.

Miyazaki’s composition of these panels is so awfully sophisticated that I’m terrified, but the examples I’ve drawn upon so far have been from when Miyazaki’s manga had been serialized for a while and he was establishing his own form of manga syntax, and not at the point when he first began serialization, back when his refinement was still lacking. Take a look here at the first page from Volume 1.

Volume 1 p. 9

I touched on it just before, but the second image here is unusual for Nausicaa in that the rectangular panel does not have a border. Actually, when it was published in Animage originally, the title logo for Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was inserted here. When it was being collected together for the tankobon, Nausicaa flying with the glider was drawn in, and so the edit from panel 1 to panel 2[4] is not B” so much as it is B”-. It’s the same as the beginning of the revised edition of “New Treasure Island.”

Now what’s a good way to explain the transition from Panel 2 to the giant skull in Panel 3? In a movie it would be a B. You’d think then that it would be a B’ sequence, but when you compare it to the way the bullet was handled in the panel I mentioned earlier, I must say it looks less sophisticated than a typical B’ scene.

And then, doesn’t the edit from Panel 3 to Panel 4 feel abrupt? First, some of her actions seem omitted. 1) The glider lands -> 2) Nausicaa pulls the gun from the glider -> 3) Nausicaa carries it on her shoulder -> 4) Nausicaa faces the Sea of Corruption and walks (Here, the lecturer demonstrates the way in which Nausicaa walks). That is how Nausicaa is supposed to act in this sequence, but three out of four of her actions have been removed. Moreover, while in Panel 3 she was gliding very close to the skull, in Panel 4 the scene is set at ground level, and so they cannot be A, B, or D. So, is it supposed to be C? No, because Pattern C is a scene change, which usually does not have the continuous presence of the same subject.

So then, what exactly is the sequence in these panels? If I had to explain it, I might venture to say that it’s like the old version of “New Treasure Island.” That is to say, it can be categorized as B”. However, there we have the consistent action of a moving vehicle. In this page of Nausicaa, the glider vehicle’s action is interrupted. Perhaps, if Panel 4 illustrated the glider flying towards the Sea of Corruption, it would be a smoother sequence, although Nausicaa would crash right into the tree trunks! (laughter) …even if it would be a smoother sequence.

Here’s the same scene from the movie version. Here, it is incredibly smooth.

1

2, 2’, 2’’

3, 3’

4

5

6

Nausicaa sweeps over the giant skull (1) -> Nausicaa prepares to land very close to the Sea of Corruption (2)~(2)” -> Nausicaa makes a soft landing below onto the sandy surface (3)~(3)’ -> Nausicaa pulls the gun from the glider (4) -> Nausicaa hangs it over her shoulder (5) -> Nausicaa walks towards the Sea of Corruption (6). They are edited in quite a normal fashion. But when you see this and then look at the same scene from the manga, you find that the sequence from the manga has less elegance to it in comparison. It suggests that Miyazaki was unsure of how to transfer and convert movie syntax onto paper when he began drawing the first chapter[6]. Also, the first chapter was 18 pages. With only so many pages, the complicated sequences where Nausicaa appears, wanders through the Sea of Corruption, reunites with Yupa, and then flies to the Valley of the Wind—a sequence which in the movie takes 15 minutes—has to be drawn, then the panel sequences would inevitably feel crammed and rushed.

If you were to again look over this first serialized chapter, you’d wonder why, despite the fact that the drawings are made to be dense, does the comic look so stark-white? Really, why? After thinking about it, I realized the answer: there are no screen tones being used. Do you understand? I brought some with me today. Can those sitting in the back see this? It’s a somewhat thin, net-like sheet. There are dozens of varieties of these, and they’re used by nearly every manga artist, cutting and pasting them onto their manga in order to create effects such as shadows and clothing patterns[7]. But in the first chapter of Nausicaa, all shadows are hand-drawn.

Volume 1, p.19 (with close-up)

With that, it’s pretty white. But actually, in the comic a bit of screen tone does get used.

Volume 1 p.26 (with close-up)

This is a close-up of Yupa’s face. Notice the shaded area. On top of the thin lines drawn here, a layer of screen tone is pasted onto it. This is the last page in the serialized chapter 1.

There are other instances of Miyazaki’s process of trial and error showing up in his drawings.

Volume 1 p.23

Nausicaa here is running with a big smile on her face. This same scene is also in the movie, but in the manga the scene has more of a slow-motion feel to it, and gives the impression of being a slowed-down moment. This is the weakness of B”-. Here, Nausicaa is sticking out of the panel, and is quite possibly Miyazaki’s deliberate attempt to reduce the slow feeling here. This technique, called “off the panel,” is incredibly common in Japanese manga, but this is the only instance[8] of its use in Nausicaa. “How should I draw a manga?” Miyazaki probably asked himself as he was holding a variety of manga magazines in his hand, and tried his hand at making something “off the panel.” Miyazaki had most likely not yet developed his own methodology as of chapter one.

Such is also the case with this panel, where if you look at it after you’ve come to know Nausicaa it seems unpolished.

Volume 1, p.24

First, the use of the “hyuu” sound effect and the streamline seem rather forced. Second, the scene composition gives the impression of unsophistication. For a genius layout man like Miyazaki, the scene is too loose and incomplete. Why is that the case? Well, it’s because too many words, or should I say “speech balloons,” have been crammed into the scene. Later on, Miyazaki would use a multitude of panels to handle such a scene, but I think here Miyazaki decided to depict their conversation only for one panel because Nausicaa and Yupa are holding still. There are many speech bubbles in the panel, so the scene feels relaxed.

And so on and so forth. In chapter 1, examples of Miyazaki’s trial and error are everywhere. “There’s a lot I want to talk about, a lot I want to convey, but I am not trained enough to put what I really want to tell into manga. This is so frustrating!” thought Miyazaki, I suppose. However, the second chapter is much more stable. And listen, ladies and gentlemen, he finished the second chapter not in pen, but in pencil! When the first manuscript for Nausicaa was handed over, the Sherlock Holmes (aka Sherlock Hound) project was given the go-ahead, and so Miyazaki no longer had any time to draw manga. However, Animage persuaded him to continue the series, with Miyazaki finally agreeing to do so, on the condition that he could draw the Nausicaa manga in pencil because it enabled him to finish it more quickly. Nausicaa, as a result, became the first commercial manga ever drawn in pencil.

Volume 1, p.35 (with close-up)

One of the unique characteristics of the manga version of Nausicaa is how the shadows are rendered by drawing a series of thin lines. This is influenced by the French comic artist Moebius[9]. Look at the right image. You can see that these shadow lines are chipped subtly. That’s because it’s drawn in pencil (laughter). For your information, Miyazaki seems to have used a variety of pencil types, including a B and an H.

But then around the second half of the second volume, the comic goes back to being in pen. Now I might have this wrong, but I get the feeling that even after that it occasionally goes back to being in pencil. Here, for example.

Volume 3, p.41 (left) Volume 3, p.42 (right)

For the sake of the Nausicaa movie, the manga’s serialization was put on hiatus. The image on the left is a panel from the final page before Nausicaa was put on hiatus, and the image on the right is from the page right after serialization resumed. In the collected volume (tankobon), they’re printed on the same piece of paper, one on the front and the other on the back, but in reality there was a 13-month gap. Now if we were to magnify the dangling ends of the gas mask…

Do you see? The lines in the image on the right are more chipped. This means it’s a pencil drawing. You might know that in animation key frames are drawn in pencil, and so while making the Nausicaa movie, Miyazaki became more attuned to using pencil. I guess after the manga resumed, he was unable to draw with a pen the way he wanted to, and so after the manga started up again, the first new chapter was done in pencil. But then in the next chapter, the comic goes back to being in pen. Incidentally, when he resumed the Nausicaa manga after having completed the movie Kiki’s Delivery Service, the lines look a little chipped. I think that it was also drawn in pencil. Then, it returned to pen.

Now we’re going back to analyzing what it means to be “cinematic.” Having the background be out of focus is a technique frequently used in live action film, or should I say, photography. Suppose there were many little flowers blossoming and you attempted to use your camera to shoot one of them very closely. However hard you tried, the shot would get crowded by the other flowers. For that reason, you have the camera focus on just the one flower and leave all of the other flowers out of focus (Lecturer projects it on the screen). This is a terrible example though, granted (laughter).

The “out of focus” method is also in Nausicaa.

Volume 2, p.116

This scene is the duel between Yupa and Asbel. It’s an action scene, and yet it’s more akin to stopped motion. In my opinion though, I wouldn’t call it stopped motion so much as the removal of sound.

Look at this scene from the Nausicaa movie (DVD playback). A giant transport vehicle crashes into the Valley of the Wind. By the window is a girl who looks the same age as Nausicaa. The sound disappears in this cut. Movement in this scene hasn’t stopped, and yet doesn’t it seem like time has stopped for an instant? The panel in question, the one with Yupa and Asbel, achieves the same result on paper, although this scene was drawn before Nausicaa was ever turned into a movie. It is said that Takahata, who joined the production of Nausicaa the movie as a studio manager, worked as the sound supervisor as well and removed all the sound in this cut. His sound removal method must have impressed Miyazaki, as Miyazaki applied it to the Nausicaa manga in a more refined way later.

Volume 3, p.139

Here, Nausicaa is fleeing from a Dorok cavalry. Of the guards who are desperately covering Nausicaa with their bodies, one of them gets hit and falls over. It’s quite exciting. At the same time, the lack of a rendered background emphasizes her psychological shock and as a result gives off a sense of stillness, a sense of stopped motion [10].

The overlap technique seen in films is also used. It’s not used that often, but if you take a look here:

Volume 5 p.75

For some reason, the monk has a worried look on his face, and Nausicaa appears behind him flying. Drawing an image like this on paper is a little too bold, but in actuality the image does not feel out of place. In other words, it reminds us just how heavily we have adapted ourselves to the scene dissolves that occur in movies and television.

Speaking of which, this is a manga which faithfully uses rectangular panels. There are, however, exceptions, like here.

Volume 3 p.13

This image brings back some memories from when I was in elementary school, especially the illustrated encyclopedias that would be available in the school library. Boys who are into science or technology like illustrated encyclopedias, and a young Miyazaki would be included among them. (laughter). Now have a look.

Volume 7 p.105

Oh! Here we have Nausicaa relaxing with a silly look on her face (laughter). She’s forgotten her usual self-denial and self-restraint, feeling quite relaxed and refreshed, with the image of the garden bleeding past the edges of the page as if to reflect the calm in her mind[11]. The author wanted Nausicaa to relax for a short while. After this, she would be sacrificed to a journey filled with despair…

…Which is my own humble analysis of Nausicaa. Seeing this manga, I’m impressed that almost all of the panels are rectangular, something quite unusual for modern manga, while each of those panels is packed with the passion and energy of such an extraordinarily talented creator. This gives off the impression that Miyazaki was holding back. As he was most likely extremely conscious of how the movie’s sequences and transitions would be edited, the activity in the actions from panel to panel, in other words A”, are united with the context of words and dialogue. In short, Nausicaa is the manga which blends cinematic methods exquisitely into classical manga syntax.

Miyazaki learned Disney-style full animation at Toei Animation, and then left the studio where he and his comrades ended up falling in labor union activities. He and Takahata joined the TV cartoon industry, trying to achieve maximum “cinematic” efforts using lower budgets and fewer animated drawings. In his autobiography, veteran animator enthusiastically writes about how Miyazaki had been living his vision.

This is Miyazaki’s storyboard from the 1971 Lupin III[12]. Otsuka compares Miyazaki’s storyboard with one done by a different animator. If we look at this other storyboard done by someone we’ll call “Mr. X…”

The Animator Clawing His Way (Sakuga Ase-Mamire),
Revised and Expanded Edition by Yasuo Otsuka,
published by Tokuma Shoten Publishing, p.149

…there’s an A cut. However, with Pattern A, the action must be continuous, which makes drawing the images for it labor-intensive. Miyazaki’s storyboard on the other hand is entirely D edits. If the action isn’t continuous, then the drawings become easier to do, all the while Miyazaki remains perfectly faithful to the principles of film editing.

Looking at the Nausicaa manga more closely, not only can you see that the D’ sequences are well-done, but that there are a lot of A’ sequences (with actual A sequences being impossible). When A sequences appear in TV anime, a character’s actions must be singular, and it must be a simple action—like an arm extending—to shorten the amount of labor put into the drawing. Manga, however, is by nature a series of still images, so with Pattern A’ or even Pattern A”, the readers will conceive the movements in their heads. Showcasing clever uses of this mental mechanism is the air battle scene I showed you earlier. In Panel 8, the gunship is depicted flipping like a springboard diver jumping backwards into water. If you were to actually try to animate it, the process would have been laborious and would have required many frames of animation to be drawn. However, because it is manga, the complementary actions are envisioned mentally by the reader, where less labor is needed than in drawing animation frames, and so it becomes an easier task.

Thus, what you have here are the patient efforts of Japanese animators over dozens of years to make TV cartoon shows as fully cinematic as possible in spite of difficult circumstances in production, as well as the brilliant efforts of Japanese manga artists over dozens of years to achieve cinematic style on-paper in spite of the fact that manga is just composed of still images. One of the most brilliant fruits of their labor is the subtle and bold fusion of the two sides that is Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. That is my conclusion. (Applause) What? Why are you all clapping here? (Big laughter, huge applause) I’m grateful! Oh, don’t you think NHK will have to invite me as a guest commentator whenever they have their “Manga Night Talks” show about Tezuka’s New Treasure Island? (laughter).” Not that Tezuka Productions would ever give the OK on it, even though this is the 80th anniversary of Osamu Tezuka’s birth[13] (laughter).

Next week, we’ll continue to discuss Nausicaa. This time we discussed technique in depth, but next time we’ll be analyzing and getting at the core of its story and themes. I hope to see you all in this classroom next week. Class dismissed.

Footnotes:

[1] It goes without saying that the three-legged race I mentioned earlier is A”. However, the two girls’ swing of conversation fills cinematic gaps among the three panels.

[2] Notice how in panels 1~5 there are no speech balloons, sounds, or entire figures. On the other hand, you have Footnote 9, or “Osaka splitting her chopsticks apart,” where sound and figures make it easier to follow the panels smoothly, as if it were cinematic.

[3] In an interview, Mori mentions liking this sort of panel sequence.

[4] For the sake of convenience I called this “panel 2,” despite it having no actual borders.

[5] Actually there’s another solution here. If one were to insert a panel of Nausicaa preparing to land in between panels 3 and 4, it would become B”.

[6] I also referenced Yukihiro Abeno, who said, “Miyazaki is the ultimate and most fortunate amateur manga author.” (Seidosha Publishing, Eureka Special “World of Hayao Miyazaki” Issue)

[7] The first time this was used in a manga was by Miyomaru Nagata. Around 1955 or so.

[8] An omission.

[9] Moebius, born on May 8th, 1938. He is famous for having influenced the styles of Katsuhiro Otomo and Hayao Miyazaki, and apparently Moebius style had an influence on Tezuka’s Hidamari no Ki, the samurai drama featuring Tezuka’s ancestors. As an aside, Moebius named his own daughter “Nausicaa.

[10] In Nausicaa, when an action scene occurs the closing line in the panel becomes diagonal.

[11] I believe this technique of piling fragment-like panels on a larger, non-bordered image was first used in Japan by Shotaro Ishinomori (January 25, 1938 – January 28, 1998).

[12] At first Satoshi Dezaki drew the storyboard for the sequence, but Miyazaki rejected it and drew this afterwards. Though keep in mind that Dezaki was not “Mr. X.” In fact, the second storyboard on this page was drawn by a younger animator whom Otsuka got to draw it years after the production of the first Lupin.

[13] The old New Treasure Island was finally re-released on February, 2009.

For the past month or so I’ve been writing articles for the site Otaku Crush, and my latest article there is a review of Miyazaki’s Ponyo on the Cliff.

Otaku Crush’s site is still in beta, but feel free to check it out. It’s a dating site devoted to getting people with the common interests of anime and manga together, though you don’t have to sign up to read any of the news posts or essays.

Feel free to check out the rest of what I’ve written so far. Also, while I cannot really say anything about the dating aspect of the site (having never used it and all), if you feel it’s a good opportunity for you, you can also sign up. At the moment, it’s free of charge.

World Masterpiece Theater is a very long-running series in Japan, where famous stories from around the world are adapted into television anime series. Even today new series are running under the World Masterpiece Theater banner, and in practically every case it’s produced a series loved by many and considered to be of the finest quality in Japanese animation. One particularly exceptional series comes to us from 1979: Anne of Green Gables. Adapted from the novel of the same title by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, or “Akage no Anne” as it’s called in Japan, is the story of a young orphan named Anne Shirley and the positive impact she makes upon the life of a pair of elderly siblings, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, as well as the little Canadian town of Avonlea in which they live.

Now, I’ve never read any of the novels and never really planned to, but two factors piqued my interest enough to watch the anime. First was the fact that it is so well-regarded in Japan, and second was that it bears one of the more remarkable pedigrees in anime history. The director and first layout artist for Anne are two names you might recognize: Takahata Isao and Miyazaki Hayao. They are the two men who would a few years later found Studio Ghibli, perhaps the most respected and highly acclaimed Japanese animation studio of all time. Also on board were Kondou Yoshifumi on character designs and Sakurai Michiyo, who would take over from Miyazaki on layout. The two would go on to do key animation for various Ghibli titles such as Kiki’s Delivery Service and Porco Rosso (Yoshifumi), Castle in the Sky Laputa (Sakurai), and even direct for Ghibli (Yoshifumi on Whisper of the Heart). Both also did key animation for Grave of the Fireflies. Simply put, this show did not suffer from a lack of talent.

While this was not the first time the duo of Takahata and Miyazaki had worked together, nor was it the first time they had done any World Masterpiece titles, Anne of Green Gables is one of the best examples of what they were able to accomplish. Anne of Green Gables takes full advantage of its fairly episodic format by making each and every episode a joy to watch either on its own or in large chunks of multiple episodes. It makes the show approachable at any stage, and the show becomes a pleasant yet compelling experience, especially when you factor in Anne Shirley herself. Anne, who introduces herself as “Anne with an E but I’d rather be called Cordelia,” is a shining example of a main character who just carries a story. All of the other characters are good too, mind you, from Anne’s best friend Diana to the rascally Gilbert Blythe, but her name’s in the title for a reason.

Anne’s most endearing trait is probably her tendency to get caught up in her own imagination. When combined with her love of storytelling, it results in seemingly endless declarations of love and hate, with flares of drama or comedy or passion depending on how she’s feeling and where her sentence construction is taking her. Anne is never satisfied with a simple story, and will turn even simple lies into elaborate tales just to fulfill her sense of the dramatic. Give her one episode and you’ll be likely be drawn into her world.

Anne of Green Gables is not only one of the most beloved novels of all time but also one of the most beloved anime of all time. Just this very year, the prequel novel Before Green Gables was adapted into a currently-running TV series to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original anime. 30 years is a long time, but Anne of Green Gables has aged very gracefully. Kannagi director Yamamoto Yutaka said at one of his Otakon 2009 panels that he considers Anne to be the best example of how to do a long television anime series, and while I cannot say it is the best, it certainly sets a good precedent. In fact, my only real regret with this series is that we are no longer able to see Miyazaki and Takahata use their talents on television series, as they’ve moved on to feature films and almost nothing else.

Anne of Green Gables has a level of quality and accessibility that few anime can live up to, and just as the original novel still carries relevance today, so too does Akage no Anne.

The Magic Geox comic series is often underappreciated and overlooked. This is especially the case with issue 12 of the series. This issue, titled Magic Geox and…the School of Magic, manages to blend subtle societal commentary with deep, complex characters in a unique setting combining magic and technology with a dash of superheroics. It also reveals much about our hero Magic Geox’s character flaws, and does so with grace on the level of Kino’s Journey.

The story begins on a world called Planet Magix III where a group of young wizard apprentices are tasked with creating shoes that are all but devoid of odor, a practical exercise fitting for a final exam from one of the most prominent magic planets in the galaxy. The young wizards-to-be, in their attempt to find a solid solution to their problem, inadvertently unleash an ancient and terrible pair of demonic shoes with a pungent aroma so foul that they are actually able to control other smelly footwear through the power of their combined stench. Ultimately, it is up to Magic Geox to descend from space and use his advanced technology to put an end to the evil shoes.

It is in this issue that we begin to truly see the level of hatred Magic Geox has for odiferous shoes. Though he hides it well with a smile, and a look of confidence, the sublime artwork really conveys the obsession inherent in Magic Geox.

A lot can be said about the symbolism strewn throughout the story, but three main points come to mind.

1) The young magicians are eager to solve their problem without thinking through the consequences, and their mistake balloons and goes out of control to the point that not even the adults in their community can handle it. This speaks to a growing paranoia in our society that children are growing up faster than their parents and guardians can keep up with, and even those with the power to control matter itself cannot entirely understand the minds of children.

2) Magic Geox is himself a technological being who arrives on a backwater “magical world” in order to save it from the perils caused by its own people. In this sense, Magic Geox is not unlike a Christ figure. Though he uses technology, he chooses to have the word “Magic” in his name, as if to say that his abilities, man-made as they may be, can still cause miracles. It does not appear to be hubris or conceit however, but rather true faith in his cause.

3) The demon shoes themselves possess sharp teeth placed in such a way that if one were to actually wear them as shoes, the pain would be immense despite at first seeming to be very comfortable. When one realizes that the “stink trails” that emit from these shoes are just creatively disguised smog clouds, it is clear that these shoes are a metaphor for pollution caused by industrialization, an interesting contrast to the promotion of technology inherent in Magic Geox’s presence. Much like Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke, this comic wants to show both sides to a situation.

Overall, Magic Geox and…the School of Magic is an ambitious work. Its main flaw may be that it is so densely packed with content in every page and panel that it becomes a difficult read. However, this is also what makes it worth revisiting time and time again.

Before Green Gables, known also by its Japanese title Konnichiwa Anne, is a prequel to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original Anne of Green Gables (Akage no Anne) anime. It’s even being done by the same production company that did the original. Obviously with the show a month or two away by this point I have no way to actually judge it, but what I can say is that its predecessor is a tough act to live up to.

If you look at the staff for the original Anne of Green Gables anime, you’ll perhaps see some familiar names, and none more familiar than “Miyazaki Hayao” and “Takahata Isao.” That’s right, this anime was made by the team that would go on to form Studio Ghibli. Sure it was back when they were younger and less experienced, but I really do not envy the current staff.

Perhaps they can benefit from the fact that it’s a 30th anniversary and many people today would be too young to remember the original. In any case, I feel like no matter how the show ends up I want to do my best to not constantly compare the two works. You know, despite this entire post being all about the comparison.

Having spent yesterday and today hesitating on whether or not to buy the special edition Cardcaptor Sakura movies, I decided to sit down and watch some episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura, to see if it would swing my decision one way or the other. As of now, it’s still undecided, but just like every other time I’ve decided to re-watch Cardcaptor Sakura, I was reminded of how good the show looks. Years from now, the show will still look good. And this got me to thinking about the way time relates to an anime’s visuals.

In animation, there is a race to see the visual quality of animation improve over time. Though it’s not as drastic or hotly contested as the race that video games have gone through, it’s not uncommon to hear from people that a show looks outdated. This is a dangerous way of thinking, as it assumes that the shows you like today will be considered inferior in ten, twenty years. One might say then, that “timelessness” is the ideal to pursue, but at the same time I don’t think “timelessness” of visuals is necessarily a good thing. Much like how making anime for an international audience can take away some of the uniquely Japanese aspects of anime, I think a similar problem can occur when the creators of a show try to isolate it from its own time. At the same time, this isn’t an excuse for a show to look bad or have poor art direction and using either “timelessness” or “representative of its time” as an excuse.

Different shows seem to approach this issue of time and its relation to the animation quality. In Cardcaptor Sakura, it’s the well-thought-out “camera” angles, transitions, and just the way the show flows naturally from scene to scene and action to action that makes it stand the oft-mentioned “test of time.” Koutetsushin Jeeg and Re:Cutie Honey, both updates of 70s Nagai Go works, merge the visual cues of 70s anime with a modern sense of perspective and consistency towards animation. Casshern SINS, a current show, takes an interesting approach. Its main character is said to be immortal, and to show this the design of Casshern references anime throughout the decades. Casshern himself is a 70s anime character, while his hair and musculature are similar to 80s characters, his figure and facial features are reminiscent of 90s bishounen, and the overall aesthetic of the show is very modern. Anne of Green Gables, a 1979 anime series directed by Grave of the Fireflies director Takahata Isao (with Miyazaki on staff as well), is an adaptation of an already well-known novel, and though there wasn’t a lot of resources in animation at that time, they worked with what they had to make the show very engaging.

“Working with what you have” may not always produce the best or most well-remembered shows, but I think it’s an important step in making a show whose visuals will be well-remembered years down the line when what was once cutting-edge will become as old-hat as wearing a skinned sabretooth tiger. One thing that Cardcaptor Sakura, Koutetsushin Jeeg, Re:Cutie Honey, Casshern SINS, and Anne of Green Gables have in common is that you can see the sheer amount of effort put into these shows. Judging “effort” is tricky business, and might even be scoffed at as impossible or even arbitrary, but when there’s this much effort involved I think you can’t help but notice. And when people, year after year notice this, that’s when a show’s visuals can be called “timeless.”

Though if you don’t aim for “timeless” art direction, that still doesn’t mean your show cannot be great.

Tim Eldred over at Starblazers.com has written a fascinating article about the history of the early Yamato fandom and by extension the history of the first true fandom in anime history. See what fans had to do before the concept of the anime fan even existed, and the steps taken to organize and even save the first of many productions that would be overshadowed by the might of eventual-Ghibli-director Miyazaki.

Yamato’s fandom even plays an integral role in the very first Comic Market, which is only a hint of the profound influence Yamato and its fans had on both sides of the anime industry.

It also sheds light on that Genshiken comic by Zetsubou-Sensei creator Kumeta Kouji depicting Ohno in various cosplay outfits at Comiket over the years. Her cosplay of Yuki from Yamato isn’t just early, it’s early.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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