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Monthly Archives: October 2010

Note: I’ve updated my Currently Watching page

So I was watching Bakuman earlier tonight and I got hit by a main character monologue. I’ve seen it used before. Introduction via monologue worked really well in ef and DeathNote and it worked for me here too… but I thought about it for a bit after I thought about what it meant to me, personally.

Bakuman begins with the main character’s monologue about life. He is 14 years old and is plodding his way down the common road of the normal man. When folk asked him what he wanted to do with his life, he would answer “I don’t know” or “I haven’t decided yet.” It is normal for people to want to get into a decent high school. It is normal to want to graduate and get into a decent company. He is exerting just enough energy to maintain his place in the middle of the pack. The winners of tomorrow are the winners of today. They are already distinguishing themselves at this level and they will continue to be superior in the future. Tomorrow is just an extended today.

The video and I paused to consider.

Here is a kid of 14, the age of an American high school freshman, and he has settled into a rut of humanity. He has looked out at the masses and realized that exactly half of them will lead below-average lives no matter what. Here he is, in the spring of his life, looking out at tomorrow with a sense of helplessness. He feels locked out of being exemplary because those positions are reserved for those people who are better than he. Naturally, the geniuses, prodigies and hard-workers would force their way to the top. There is no point in even forming a dream, he subconsciously recognizes, because there are surely others who want whatever it is more or are closer to it.

It didn’t bother me because he felt such despair so early in his life… it bothered me because I related. I graduated from high school ranked 51% of my class, not because I wasn’t smarter than the 49% above me, but because I never once challenged them for their place. Standing tall upon the bell curve, I looked out over the masses of man and I saw the valleys of despair and fulfillment. They felt so far away, down at the bottom of the chart.

Now, there was a difference between my high school experience and the main character’s. He gets, within the first episode, a free spirit who introduces him to a dream. He then begins work towards said dream. It is a pretty standard pattern. We get introduced to a character just before the event that separates us from them.

Heck, I remember the first time I watched ef, I swore to people that I had finally found an anime version of myself! I could have written his monologue. I will try my best to quote it without referencing the anime.

“I’ve always thought this way… that there would be an occurrence that would make me special. For the longest time, the only thing on my mind was becoming a knight and protecting a princess from misfortune… but… I guess it is too late to become one now. I wonder what I should do…”

I had to pause the video. I had to pause it for a moment because I was experiencing a sense of de ja vu… or perhaps feedback. It was the echo of my own heart I was hearing and, just in that instant, I had to STOP it. Now, I’ve played that clip many times for many people and I’ve said “Here! This!”… but it has never felt the same. Why? Because I know that he gets his chance encounter of 45 seconds. Because he had his moment of destiny. We joined him at the moment before his life gained meaning, only as a method of showing that meaning hadn’t always been there.

So, what about those of us living our lives in the monologue scene? Those of us whose DeathNotes haven’t fallen… those of us whose train station was empty as usual… those of us who remembered to take our math notebooks home?

We wait. Stronger men would just create their own destiny. Weaker men would just throw all their tomorrows away… but we were never those men to begin with. After all… we are the ones standing at the top of the world.

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So, I was watching Mitsudomoe, having a good time… and then they hit me with this.

It hit me right in the heart. Oh God, I thought, this is the last episode… I will never see these girls again… IT’S AZUMANGA DAIOH ALL OVER AGAIN! I actually waved goodbye back. In the brief 5 second period in which this image of them waving bye-bye was on the screen, I had a brief period of mourning.

It is never easy, letting a decent series go. Sometimes, rarely, you are blessed enough to get an ending that ties everything up for you and gives you closure. Gungrave was the best series ever for that. More often, though, the characters have lives that they need to go on living and you feel left out… sure, evil is defeated and the land is saved… but what about that girl? And that mystery? And that guy who said that “One day, I will repay this favor”?! WILL HE EVER REPAY THAT FAVOR?!

Ah, but then we have Mitsudomoe, Azumanga Daioh, School Rumble, Genshiken… anime about life and people living it. Their lives don’t just end with the series. Surely, these characters are going on, living out lives that we will never see. It is simply that we are forced at some point to say goodbye.

It is a saddening realization. This is the last episode. I will never again see these characters. It is the ultimate last step for the “slice of life” genre. If you haven’t seen Azumanga Daioh, I strongly urge you to watch it just for the powerful feeling it will leave in your chest… The last episode, all of the girls have to say their goodbyes. They will be friends forever, certainly, and they will see eachother again… but it is goodbye. A very real and powerful goodbye, the kind that you have experienced before and will experience again. Lives diverging, people who walked side-by-side with you, walking down a different path… then, at the very end, they walk away… and that is when you realize that you, too, must say goodbye. You can recommend the anime to other people, you can rewatch it… but that first time, the powerful feeling that you get there… it is something special.

 

So, I’ve been playing the daylights out of Sengoku Basara Samurai Heroes for my PS3. It is a beautiful game, if you have ever enjoyed the Dynasty Warriors sort of game, and they put a LOT of effort into replay value. I spent an entire day as Maeda Keiji, it seems, beating up badguys, maxing levels, unlocking things… great fun.

It made me want to go back and watch the anime. I had passed Sengoku Basara over when it first came out. It looked interesting enough, like a silly version of Samurai Warriors. I knew enough waring states period history to fill in most of the gaps. I watched two episodes and then forgot it to watch something else. (Much like I’m doing to Eyeshield 21 to watch Basara now.) Let me break it down for those of you who don’t know.

The Waring States period was a time in Japan’s history of war and warriors  where a lot of kick-ass fighting occurred. The first units of riflemen began to appear on the Japanese battlefield and the face of war in Japan began to change. The local daimyo gathered armies under their banners and pushed forward against their rivals. Some wanted to conquer all of Japan. Some wanted to defend their homelands. It was great stuff, even before embelishment.

So, here we have Sengoku Basara. The name pretty much translates to “over-the-top waring states period”, or so I’ve been told. It is fitting. Historical figures have been distorted into characters. The brave and bold warrior Honda Tadakatsu, for instance. He was a brave warrior with a distinctive helmet that many legends have sprung up around because of his general awesomeness.

And now he’s a giant robot.

The thing is, putting the obvious distortions aside for a moment, if you watch the show, you learn the information. It isn’t as though they are really writing a new script, just altering parts. Spoiler alert, Honda died in 1610, after the battle of Sekigahara. Surely, when he gets blown up in episode 6, you haven’t seen the last of him.

The Japanese people LOVE historical dramas. A lot of awesome Japanese people have acted like awesome Japanese people throughout history. As such, a lot of awesome Japanese actors have acted like awesome Japanese people throughout history acting like awesome Japanese people… on TV!

Casting Gackt as Kenshin? I approve!

With that long history of taking long history and turning it into interesting television, I suppose Sengoku Basara was an inevitability. I mean, we have had anime that turned the classic movie The Seven Samurai into an anime (Samurai 7). We’ve had an anime that turned the Count of Monte Cristo into an anime (Gankutsuou). It was only a matter of time before the anime writers, much like Hollywood, began to turn to textbooks for badasses to populate the screen.

Now, I’m interested in what an American version of this would look like. Maybe something like REVOLUTION perhaps? George Washington crossing the Delaware on a jetski equipped with chainguns… I suppose the Civil War would probably be easier to work with. Nothing but Americans on either side, plenty of places for drama and GUN FU! I can see it now, Robert E. Lee wields 4 shotguns and rides a motorcycle. Epicness.

Of course… we might already be slowly walking down that path…