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Monthly Archives: February 2011

Gather around, friends, and let me tell you a story of a programming block. A long time ago, back in 1997, a block of time was set aside for Thundercats, Voltron and The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. The block was called Toonami and, like a tsunami, it rolled in with a wave of good programming. You wouldn’t expect much out of two shows from 1985 and a 2d/3d revival of a 60s franchise, but there it was. Those three shows were good stuff, Thundercats had the action and majesty of 80s western animation, Voltron was everything a sentai show should be and Jonny Quest even managed to breathe life back into a dead franchise with good writing. There was something there, something hard to grasp. The viewers, mostly children, were tuning in for a sort of cartoon they didn’t get a chance to see.

1998, Cartoon Network decided to keep up the block, but try more anime and more 3d animation. They added Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, Robotech, Transformers: Beast Wars and even hedged their bets with Superfriends just incase the secret to success was the 80s appeal. On top of this, they introduced a host. They brought in TOM.

TOM was likable and personable host who perfectly suited the block of programing he was built for. He helped tie the programs together into the block. No longer was it a collection of shows, it began to grow into something more. Every time Toonami started, TOM would begin broadcast out on his fantastical ship in space. Every time Toonami ended, he would sign off, wishing the audience the best until next time. This wasn’t just a block of amazing programing that defied the norm, it was a message from space. From 4 to 6 every day, viewers would sit entranced by not only the quality of the programing, but the style and grace with which is was presented. This did not go unnoticed. Cartoon network extended the program an hour; TOM began broadcasting until 7 every weekday. Furthermore, they refined their style, launching a block of programming that is one of the finest I’ve ever seen.

-Sailor Moon
-Dragon Ball Z
-Gundam Wing
-Tenchi Muyo!
-Batman: The Animated Series

There was something for everyone here! As for me, I watched all of them. Many of us did. We watched with our eyes wide open. There was something powerful here, something that said “Look, this is what I have to show you! Good writing here, feel the characters! This one has an amazing artistic technique! Can’t you feel it?!” There was something greater than the sum of the parts there. We began to feel like Toonami was trying to teach us something about humanity through parable.

And then TOM died. The reactor overheated, he did his best to save the ship. He did his best to save our shows. WE WATCHED HIM DIE! Powerless on our couches, we watched a Toonami special where our beloved buffer for commercials showed us all the qualities that we had come to expect of him. He was a hero and he was martyred for our cause…

But he rose again.

Inhabiting a new shell, with a newly refitted ship, TOM2 had the same soul. If you ask most fans about Toonami, the image that resonates strongest within them is that of TOM2. This is because the TOM2 period represented some sort of beautiful period in weekday where there was magic and meaning in the world. TOM would send you and image of Gene Starwind overcoming his past or the crew Blue Sub 6 fighting for their very existence as a race. Then, when the show was over, we would eagerly await the next time. There was a powerful sense of wonder and style about it that I simply haven’t seen the like of since. I leave you now with a video of a man riding an elevator, sitting in a chair and then pushing 3 buttons. Before you watch it, I want you to reread my last sentence. That is all he is doing; he is riding an elevator, sitting in a chair and pushing 3 buttons.

It feels a lot more powerful than that, doesn’t it?


So, I was watching Bakuman today when something AMAZINGLY INTERESTING happened. As I was sitting in my chair doing a sort of nerdy “Oh man, this story is so good” dance, I felt a dawning realization hit. I’ve always enjoyed Bakuman, I’ve felt the story-telling and characters were absolutely amazing. This recent arc, however, was absolutely wonderful for one key reason: the focal point was an absence of good communication. We, the audience, knew all the appropriate information! We could solve all the characters’ problems in a heartbeat. The characters knew pieces of information that they, for one reason or another, didn’t share, despite that information being the very solution to their problems! Because we KNEW the solution to their problems and because it was SO BLOODY SIMPLE, there was a great feeling of anticipation that built while watching it. Will the characters resolve their issues?! Will he ever tell her that thing that she doesn’t know?! IF SHE KNEW THAT THING, HOW WOULD SHE REACT?! When the audience knows what some of the characters don’t, we become some sort of secret-keeper. Some of the fans, they can’t keep secrets, they go out onto the internets and make fanfiction. They insert some sort of Mary Sue or Gary Stu to go in and solve character problems. If you think back on it, you’ve likely seen it hundreds of times.

School Rumble was a great anime that was built on nothing but miss-communication and secrets. Eventually, there was so much tension and potential for awesomeness that every episode had me balling my fists and thinking “Dear god, why?!” It was an amazing feeling. Here, I shall include below a simple chart of basic relationships.

That is a lot of lines, isn’t it?! Lets forget about Satsuki, Madoka and Umedu for a second, not that I remembered Satsuki before this chart, mind you… We have a lot of lines of information here! This is a tangled skein of human interaction! Furthermore, this is an out of date chart! It is actually missing lines! That is because the series starts off with simple and understandable relationships and then builds on them with layers of feelings that go unsaid by the characters but NOT by the audience. It is that sort of building tension that can really make some lasting memories with the fans, if you are fortunate enough to find it. My absolute favorite part of the series actually came from the horribly butchered and rushed “third season.” (If you can even call it that! Slap in the face, more like!) It was when they dropped a bombshell on us that we just hadn’t seen throughout the series… but we could have! We had gotten so used to being able to hear characters thoughts that when the silent character spoke up, suddenly we understood how HARD it is for these characters! When we cried out all those times in the past “You fool! How can you not tell that they are crazy for you?!”, we didn’t realize that feeling fully! That is part of the appeal though, even knowing the characters, we have no way of knowing exactly how they will react, even if the truth is told to them. People can surprise you, and that can also apply to well-made characters.

Great Teacher Onizuka, both the anime and live action versions, used the lack of communication as a theme. Onizuka believed that he could get the students to open up and say the things they left unsaid, or, if they didn’t want to say them, that he could understand them to the point where they didn’t have to. Rather than creating tension by showing us the things left unsaid or the things misunderstood, GTO showed us a picture of normalcy. We accepted, as the audience, that this is the way things were. Then, GTO began stripping it. Soon, everyone had a story. Everyone had problems. Everyone had things they didn’t want to talk about. That was half of the appeal, the other half being how Onizuka when about fixing their broken hearts. See, most the time, we actually got that feeling of tension from Onizuka himself! The man was unpredictable, even when he had all the right information. He didn’t handle things the way rational folks do, and that one of the charm points of his character! So, the audience would constantly find itself wondering what this man would do next and how other people would take it. It wasn’t so much about a lack of communication, but his method. Each time, you could feel that doubt creeping in, “is he actually going to be able to change anything like this?” But each time, that song would come on…

(dadadadadadadadada… poison
dadadadadadadadada… oh oh)

Also, though I don’t normally discuss manga, Yankee-kun to Megane-chan deserves praise as far as this goes. I honestly doubt YanMega will ever get an anime, mostly because it lacks exploitable or marketable characters, but I’ve enjoyed it immensely. The great thing about this one is that there are things that, to the readers as a third party, are SO FREAKING RAGE-INDUCTIVELY OBVIOUS! The characters, however, aren’t looking for them. The main character is still in love with a girl he met years ago, but hasn’t been able to find since… because she has been in his class, now wearing glasses. It is the Clark Kent disguise! Shouldn’t he be able to recognize her if she changes her hairstyle and puts on glasses? No! Of course he won’t be able to! He has only seen the girl twice beforehand. She left a strong impression on him, but he has a mental disassociation built up between the way he thinks she is and the way she is. Whats worse, the girl doesn’t seem to know that he has this disassociation, or maybe she doesn’t care. Either way, she seems content with not fixing the errors in their communication, possibly because she isn’t aware of an error to begin with! Some of the fans have written the characters off as blind idiots, but even as they write their complaints, THEY COME BACK EVERY UPDATE.

I’ve seen some pretty boring anime in my time… I’ve seen some anime that has just lost my attention. I think the absolute worst thing you can do as an author is to have characters just blurt out these tension points without careful artistic consideration. When the fans have felt that build-up in their hearts, the worst thing you can possibly do is take those secrets and instantly make them commonplace knowledge. We will actually feel robbed because, if that is the case, why did we hold them so close for so long? 

Greetings, faithful readers! I am currently out of town celebrating my birth with friends! As such, I’m not giving you any sort of meaningful update this week. Instead, I will just say that I wish you the best sort of Valentine’s Day you can have. If you need a suggestion for something to do during the time in which you would normally be reading this post, might I suggest Puella Magi Madoka Magica? I’m still really enjoying that one. I shall return with normal updates next monday… no, I shall return with SLIGHTLY BETTER THAN AVERAGE UPDATES! Until then, have yourself a wonderful week.

Love & Peace