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!!!SPOILER WARNING!!! THIS POST ASSUMES YOU’VE SEEN ALL OF KILL LA KILL

Kill la Kill has been a fairly controversial show since its start. Back in the early episodes I remember seeing a great deal of questions suspicious of what I’d call the anime’s “integrity.” Does this story have any legs or is is just a random assortment of wacky and violent things? Is there a solid sense of character development at work, or is it all style and flash? Are the ridiculously skimpy outfits there to titillate or to make a point?

In other words, is the show smart or stupid?

For those who’ve watched through to the end, I think the answer is pretty clear: much like the question of whether Ryuko and Senketsu are human or clothing, Kill la Kill is neither smart nor stupid, yet it’s also smart and stupid.

I’m oversimplifying the point in the hope of expressing my thoughts succinctly, so let me elaborate.

A lot of features of Kill la Kill simultaneously buck and conform to convention. Traditionally, when we think of narrative in anime, we think of it as the visual style serving the plot, but in a lot of cases Kill la Kill shifts between which facet, narrative or style, takes priority, and sometimes they act as equals. In this last regard, I think one of the best moments to showcase this in Kill la Kill is Satsuki’s apology to Ryuko, where her characteristic blinding aura takes on new meaning.

Kill la Kill also encompasses both of anime-as-animation’s dual personas. Is anime a detailed and expressive medium which breathes life into its characters, or is it a series of creative money-saving cheats honed through decades to become a craft all of its own? In Kill la Kill, while it’s easy to tell which moments are which, often the scenes which exemplify the latter quality of anime are so smart and effective that I wouldn’t be surprised if people preferred them to be “static” shortcuts.

When it comes to anime and pop culture references, the series is rife with them. Yet, there’s no need to “get” them to enjoy the show, or to take meaning from it. I’m 90% sure that Ryuko and Senketsu’s decent to Earth is a reference to the ending to Zambot 3, only the show takes the extremely bittersweet conclusion of Zambot 3 and turns it into something more sweet than bitter.

(Pay attention to the last 6 minutes or so. Also, Zambot 3 spoilers of course).

What about the theme of clothing? Did it truly serve the show in the end? When Senketsu burns up in the atmosphere and tells Ryuko that all girls stop wearing their school uniforms eventually, while it doesn’t explain everything in the show, it does highlight one of the consistent themes of the series, which is that it’s about girls growing into women. The moments of embarrassment, the rebelliousness and desire to make up for lost time, there are a lot of different threads at work here (pardon the pun), which may not be entirely consistent, but it doesn’t feel like the ideas presented by the series are any lesser for that. Ryuko’s motto, that she’s all about not making sense, comes to the fore here. While what she says is true in a sense, her ability to embrace nonsense, to swing wildly in terms of her emotions, and to come to conclusions which are less about solving problems and more about coming to terms with things in ways which fit her, all of that has its own logic.

What works, works, and who’s to say anyone has to follow the template laid out for them? Though, even that isn’t wholly consistent because the “purpose” of Senketsu has a clear arc, at least in terms of utility. Of course, the real purpose of Senketsu was to bond with Ryuko in more ways than one.

As for one of the main controversies, that of the show’s depictions of female characters, I find that we’re left with a surprisingly complex situation as well. All of the major female characters in Kill la Kill are strong in significantly different ways, and they each bear their own distinct personalities and personas which celebrate their broad archetypes but also encourage viewers to think about those differences as more than just “uniqueness points.” Ryuko’s strength is her passion, Satsuki’s is her indomitable will, and Mako’s is her relentlessness. This extends to a certain degree to the rest of the cast as well, for both men and women, notably the Elite Four. With respect to the tendency for the series to dress its central characters up in absurdly revealing outfits, it’s a curious thing that often the way that Ryuko and Satsuki carry themselves drives attention away from their curves and towards their intensity. It’s not even entirely a matter of personality over looks, as Senketsu and Junketsu themselves also sometimes help to, in a somewhat contradictory fashion, put the focus on themselves and not on the bodies to which they’re clinging.

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While I find that the initial criticism of Kill la Kill came from a place of fear (oh boy, it’s anime at it again!), I think those who were initially wary of Kill la Kill also had every right to be. There was no definitive sign that the differences and the “stupid” elements wouldn’t transform the show into an Ikkitousen or some other show where the girls are action figures placed into awkwardly sexual poses. There was no definitive sign that its setting would be any different from Baka and Test or any number of series where the idea of “high school” is pushed to the “extreme.” What Kill la Kill manages to do, however, is give these inclinations teeth. It shows that these tropes and “vapid elements” have more power in them than simply their ability to distract and excite, that they can be engaged and utilized to express something I would dare call truly artistic.

 

The “Golden Ani-Versary of Anime” is a collaborative effort among bloggers, fans, and experts of anime to celebrate the 30th anniversary of anime on television. Coordinated by one Geoff Tebbetts, the plan is to have one article per year from 1963 and the debut of Tetsuwan Atom all the way up to 2012. I’ve included below an excerpt from my entry on the year 1977.

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The year 1977 is something of a contradictory time in anime. Although the industry at this point was at the beginning of an animation boom and had been firmly established for over a decade, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact level of experimentation vs. continuation of formulaic trends, simply because in many cases the individual works of 1977 featured both.

The ’70s were the golden age of giant robot anime, and with six super robot-themed anime debuting (as well as five holdovers from the previous year) 1977 was no exception to that trend. Somewhat unfortunately for the robot anime of that year, the legendary arrival of Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979 tends to overshadow them as a whole, but while nothing in 1977 broke the mold as Gundam would, there were a few series which pushed that mold to its very limits. These shows managed to convey new and interesting ideas while working well within established convention, an impressive feat in its own right.

Continue reading “1977: Conventions and Innovations”

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I can still remember my first exposure to pre-Gundam giant robot anime. I had a VHS fansub which at the very end had a number of retro openings on it, a preview of what was to come from that fansub group. That’s where I was first introduced to Zambot 3, which I thought looked pretty cool, and where I first got a glimpse of the 80s’ Aura Battler Dunbine, whose catchy theme song sticks with me even today. At the same time, though, I remember distinctly thinking that Koutetsu Jeeg looked like the dumbest thing ever.  I still think Jeeg is an ugly robot with its pickle legs, but it was more the overall style, fashion, choice of song, everything, that made it seem so foreign to me as an anime fan. I loved robots then as I do now, but obviously I needed some education, and I’m glad that I now know better.

I think what really sticks out in my mind in that video was the second Mazinger Z opening, mainly because of the way that Mazinger Z itself was shaded. It didn’t have the standard shine+shade of later giant robot anime, and instead had these large areas of pencil (or something like it) blocked in. When you watch the opening, you can literally see the grit of the drawing materials right there on the limbs and stomach. I hated it then, thought it made the show look old and tacky, but looking back, the way it stuck in my mind is part of why I started being able to look well past the aesthetics of 90s anime I had become so accustomed to, and to eventually realize how much the time that we’re in influences the look of everything around us, including the entertainment we watch.

New York Anime Festival ran on my home turf of NYC this weekend, and I was there once more to experience anime, Jacob Javits-style. The most significant parts of this convention were the fact that this would be the last year that NYAF stood on its own apart from New York Comic Con (a merged con will stand in its place next year), and that the creator of Gundam Tomino Yoshiyuki would be there. As a long-time Gundam fan, I could not ignore the fact that he was set to appear in my city. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (unless you were at Big Apple Anime Fest years ago; then it’s a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity).

Friday morning, I got an official NYAF tweet telling me that people were already lining up for autograph tickets, and so with a somewhat mad dash and a long train ride, I and others managed to get to the autograph line on time and obtain our golden passes. Secure in the knowledge that I would get to meet Tomino in person, I continued on through the con.

I helped run a couple of panels this year, namely the Anime Bloggers Roundtable, and Anime Recruitment. For the latter, I was mainly a tech guy, but I managed to chime in on a few subjects, and when asked about why I was a fan of anime more than other forms of media, I gave an answer that I felt satisfied the question. My response, to sum it up, was that anime and manga are capable of addressing and portraying an incredibly diverse number of topics in a way that is appealing on both a basic surface level as well as a deeper and more emotional one. Feel free to disagree.

As for the Bloggers Roundtable, it was great fun and I got to learn quite a bit from my fellow bloggers, but I hope to learn even more and really see the differences in our blogging styles come to the forefront. Ed Chavez, who came onto the stage like a surprise pro wrestler, as well as others, mentioned that he would like to see more direct interaction between bloggers and I am inclined to agree.

I also attended panels such as the Central Park Media retrospective, where I learned that John O’Donnell is a fiercely honest businessman and speed-reader, and saw representatives of Del Rey, Funimation, Vertical Inc, Bandai Entertainment, and Harmony Gold discuss the status of the anime and manga industry, ultimately coming up with the conclusion that while the industries were in trouble, this was old territory despite being on a new frontier. I also saw the US premiere of Cencoroll, a 30-minute short vaguely reminiscent of Pokemon and Alien Nine, created by just one man a la Shinkai Makoto and his first major work, Voices of a Distant Star. It was a fine work to be sure, the animation was beautiful, and the story was simple and stylish.

But I know you’re all here to learn about Tomino, or at least my own experiences with Tomino, as all the actual news aspects have been covered in spades by various news sites. In other words, I expect you to be here for the Ogiue Maniax Tomino Experience, and I assure you that it was something.

I first saw Tomino at the opening ceremonies, where he came out with the intent to cut the red ribbon and officially open the New York Anime Festival. With a big smile on his face, and a propensity for throwing peace signs, Tomino appeared and disappeared in an instant. I knew he’d be back though.

Tomino’s keynote, despite its questionable translator, addressed a number of topics, but what it mainly focused on that I found significant was the idea that movies, film as it were, could not succeed with only one person behind the wheel. Tomino emphasized again and again that making movies, making anime, was a team effort, and that one cannot suffice on emotion and desire alone. He further explained how while he did not agree with everything that Mecha Designer Ookawara Kunio and Animation Director and Character Designer Yasuhiko Yoshikazu’s philosophies entirely, it was their combined effort which made the original Mobile Suit Gundam so successful. In addition to having it contrast with the very existence of Cencoroll, what was amazing to me was seeing Tomino embrace his status as Gundam’s creator, something he was extremely hesitant to do in the past. My personal theory is that years back Tomino was bitter that he could not escape the ominous shadow that Gundam cast upon his career in animation, but when the 30-year mark hit, he came to an epiphany that made him realize that having a work you created survive and evolve for three decades is more than most creators could ever hope for. Some might say that Gundam today is a corruption of what it was, but to have something so influential to corrupt in the first place is in itself an achievement.

The next day, Tomino Q&A was in session. First the panel began with a video summary of Tomino’s greatest works, including Triton of the Sea, Space Runaway Ideon, and Overman King Gainer. The attendees, including me, sang along with as many songs as we could. It shouldn’t surprise you that I knew a lot of them (I could hear myself being the only one singing along to “Come Here! Daitarn 3″). Also, much to Patz’s chagrin, Garzey’s Wing was missing. With that over, Tomino was introduced once more and the Q&A was in full swing. Despite the plans to ask a number of questions from the ANN forums, Tomino decided to give priority to those who were in the room. You can find out the answers to all of the questions here, though I should point out that the person asking the One Year War question was asking for an “alternate” conclusion and not an “ultimate” one.

The answer that surprised and intrigued me the most was the fact that Mobile Suit Gundam’s original fanbase was actually teenage girls. In retrospect it is very easy to see why this would be the case, and I mean that in the best possible way. Next were his answers that one of the main themes in Gundam is that adults are the enemy because they’re too set in their ways, and that as an old man he is a “super enemy,” and that to get anything done in anime you need sponsors and investors. Everyone could sense the cynical Tomino, and it turns out he’s the same as the pleasant Tomino.

What was especially great though was that I managed to ask my own question, to which I received a most satisfying answer.

Q: You had worked with the late director Tadao Nagahama. Is there anything you can relate about your personal experiences with him?

TOMINO: I worked with director Nagahama for several years before Gundam, and what I learned from him was the sense of right in stories aimed towards children. When creating works for children, it should not be biased in one way or another or leaning more in a political sense, but to provide a very pure and good story.

It’s different from the response Ishiguro gave at Otakon 2009, but I expected that and I learned a lot from that brief statement.

The panel then ended with a showing of a 5-minute clip from Tomino’s Ring of Gundam. Overall, the Q&A was a rousing success, though I wish there were more non-Gundam questions asked.

Outside of the actual con itself, a number of friends and I did some con-esque activities that made the weekend more fun as a whole. On the Thursday prior to NYAF, we watched the Eureka Seven movie, and learned that half the dub cast has trouble sounding convincing or serious. We also learned that the voice director tries his best to avoid calling E7 a “cartoon.” On Friday, we had the most Japanese of foods, Go Go Curry, and then spent the evening laying out some Most Serious Karaoke along with the likes of the Reverse Thieves, One Great Turtle, and others. Sub and I discovered that they actually had “Kanjite Knight,” and it rocked so hard we had to sing it twice. This will easily be a part of our karaoke repertoire from now on. A few trips to the Japanese bookstores of NYC were also made, where I rediscovered the Hulk Hogan manga I gave away years ago. This time, it’s definitely getting scanned.

New York Anime Festival is very unique in terms of its panel and events scheduling, in that there tends to be very few panel rooms and opportunities to see someone speak, but what is there is definitely a big hit and immensely enjoyable. I did not attend the AKB48 or Makino Yui concerts, for example, but I’m sure fans of each had a good time. What ends up happening as a result is that you get these long periods of having nothing to do except maybe go around the dealer’s room, or just sit around with friends (and luckily the Jacob Javits Center has plenty of places to sit), and actually recommend this as a way to just enjoy the con without enjoying the con. In my case, I also watched Starcraft matches as part of the World Cyber Games USA finals to pass the time (congratulations to Greg “Idra” Fields for winning WCG USA, and getting a chance to play some of the most fierce Korean pros in Starcraft history). Overall though, the panel situation is quite different from Otakon, where you feel compelled to run around to get to the next panel and have to decide on what not to attend. Things will be different next year of course.

And what of my autograph session? When I handed my DVD box to Tomino, he looked at it for a second, and as if his mental dissonance was correcting himself, he suddenly exclaimed, “Uwa…!” Then he inscribed his name, and handed me one of my most valuable possessions ever.

I can see the good times.

‘s all I’m sayin’.

The New York Anime Festival announced its first major guest today, and it is none other than the creator of Gundam and one of the most famous anime directors ever, Tomino Yoshiyuki.

Having grown up in New York City, I was a bit upset that I was not able to meet him at Big Apple Anime Fest around 2000 or so, and thought I’d never have the chance again, especially because he’s not exactly a big name among today’s anime con crowd. But here he is again, and I’m going to make sure I bring my Zambot 3 box set for him to sign. Definitely.

I’ve spoken before about Gundam and how it’s not only influential to not only the anime industry as a whole but for me personally, and to have the opportunity to pick Tomino’s brain is something I can’t pass up. Like or hate his work you know he’s different from most others, particularly in the sense of his tumultuous career as hate turned to love.

Anime News Network has an interview with Tomino to go along with their announcement, and it’s worth a read if only for the following line”

Until I was middle-aged, I liked to cram my frustrations into my works. However, my mindset changed when I realized that anime is an entertainment medium, and it has to be something people look forward to. That line of thinking is plain to see in the Z Gundam movies.

In other words, the films were an expression of the fact that by nature, all people have both a positive side and a negative side.

Wow. I am looking forward to this.

People know I like giant robot anime, but at the same time I like to think that my taste in anime is pretty diverse, as is my collection of actual anime DVDs. I’m proud to say I like mecha and super robots, but I don’t like being pegged as solely a fan of giant robots.

Then I passed by a row of anime dvds in my room (there’s other DVDs elsewhere) and I noticed Godannar, Gravion, Tetsujin 28, Eureka Seven, and Infinite Ryvius all lined up next to each other.

At my feet right now are the Gurren-Lagann LE box 1 and Zambot 3, too.

I don’t know if this is actually a lot, but it’s just this feeling that if I were in a tv show or something I would be all, “You cannot simply place me into this narrow category you call ‘mecha fans’ dear,” but then my own room would betray me.

And somehow they wouldn’t notice all the Genshiken DVDs stacked up next to each other. Alas.

There’s the front view and the back view, and then some 3/4 views. Accompanying these shots will usually be facial expressions, different poses, possibly different outfits. Whenever I buy an artbook I look for character lineart and design images, prioritizing them over even full posters. They’re one of the main reasons I bought issues of Newtype and Newtype USA. The odd thing is, I’m not sure exactly why I like them so much.

It could be that I like seeing the creator-side of any sort of production or work. Hell, I’m not afraid to admit that years ago I bought the first volume of Megatokyo just because I was curious what Fred Gallagher had to say about his own stuff. I’m always eager to read interviews by creators, and it’s also the reason I go to their panels at conventions. I try to pick their brains and ask questions to get a better understanding of their process and themselves.

These images are the basis from which everything is animated. They serve as guides for animators to go back to whenever they’re unsure of how a character should look or feel. Character design images are the bridge between still and moving image.

I normally don’t like to make Youtube-only posts but look at this! Look!

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The animations in SRWZ are the best the series has ever seen. What I particularly like is that they’re going away from using too many shots where they just traced over a screenshot from the series.

And Keiko has seriously never looked better.

Today I thought about what is one of my favorite instances of the Pokemon anime: the sequel to Mewtwo Strikes Back. I don’t mean the second movie, I mean the special released in America as “Mewtwo Returns.” However, when I talk about it, I usually refer to it by the English name given in its Japanese release, “Mewtwo Lives.” Further still, the actual Japanese title is “Mewtwo! Ware wa Koko ni Ari” or literally “Mewtwo! I Am Here.”

That’s three titles for the same work. This happens pretty often with Pokemon too, such as in the aforementioned second movie (Lugia Bakutan, Revelation-Lugia, and The Power of One) and in the case of To Terra/Toward the Terra/Terra E, though that’s a somewhat unusual case. Usually I follow a hierarchy of English Name Given By Japanese followed by Japanese Name and possibly the American-given name if it makes it easier to understand. In that respect, I still say “Erementar Gerade” instead of the more sensible “Elemental Gelade.”

It can get kind of confusing though, and I wonder at what points exactly should I conform to convention for the sake of others. Do I from now on refer to Mousou Shoujo Otakukei as “Fujoshi Rumi?” I know that when writing reviews or academic papers, the American release title takes priority over everything else, which makes perfect sense, though I find myself somewhat resistant to using it.

Though I am thinking of referring to “Muteki Choujin Zambot 3″ as “The Invincible Zambot 3″ rather than the literal translation of “Invincible Superman Zambot 3.” I know it’s based on the Italian title of “L’Invincible Zambot 3,” but I think it has a nice ring to it and isn’t as awkward as using “Superman” in the title. This also goes for “The Unchallengeable Daitarn 3.”

“The Invincible Zambot 3.”

We’ll see.

PS: Zambot 3 really isn’t invincible at all.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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