Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: March 2011

Here, listen to this while you read.

My friends, I came across something today that just snapped me back to a sense of wonder and child-like innocence. Today, I happened across the opening song for the first season of the Tenchi Muyo! OVA. This was a sound straight out of my youth. There was something magical in that song, something that resists definition. I remember tuning in every weekday to be a part of that wonderful world… to see the treeships of Jurai… to try to glimpse the mystery behind the crystals and the goddesses.. to watch the Light Hawk Wings unfurl… There was something magical in that first season of Tenchi that ensnared my sense of wonder. It was a beautiful and mystical place.

Now, I will tell you that Tenchi Universe is my favorite anime of all time… and I mean that. The story was a lot cleaner and better told than its OVA counterpart. Certainly, it was better paced. The first Tenchi ran out of plot in the first 6 episodes, after all. Still, despite that, there was something about Universe that didn’t quite measure up to Muyo!… and that was the sense of the unknown. There were things in Muyo! that were mysteries… there were age differences that defied human standards… Tenchi seemed like some sort of mortal man thrust into a realm of angels and demons.

Let us take, for instance, the first episode of Muyo! and Universe… Tenchi meeting Ryoko for the first time. Universe’s meeting had Ryoko fall from the sky, pursued by police. How was it that she had come to fall near the shrine of a former Jurian prince? Call it fate. Either way, she was found by Tenchi and revealed through the events of the first episode to be a trickster, a lover of alcohol, and a woman of demon-like power. The episode found a new way of letting the two meet and it all worked very well… but it never left an impression on me the way the first episode of Muyo! did. When Tenchi found that shrine and saw the mummified form… when the beautiful girl who could only be the revived demon began attacking him… when he cut off her hand and she laughed it off… there was something in those events that taped my eyelids open. When I found out later exactly how much she’d actually known about this kid… or how she’d actually just been trying to scare him a bit… it cast a different light upon her actions in that first episode.


In fact, I dare say that is the major difference between the two. Tenchi Universe made an attempt to explain things as they came up. When there was something that didn’t make sense, or something that you needed to know, Universe would find a way of telling you. Muyo! had a sense of mystery about it… even some of the explanations only raised more questions. Of the two anime, I definitely prefer Universe. If we are judging the two on the basis of plot, pacing, or character development, I find Universe to be superior (Especially if we throw in the movie Tenchi Forever!) Still, no matter how much I prefer a world with Kiyone in it… that song is the one that calls up all of those wonderful memories. I believe that to be because no matter how much better Universe is, Muyo! still has that intangible sense of wonder to it… well, unless you count GXP (and you really shouldn’t.)

“But Tom,” you might ask, “why does any of this matter? Tenchi is so very old. Surely there are more modern anime we could talk about?” There are, indeed, more modern anime we could discuss… but there isn’t an anime closer to my heart. There certainly isn’t an anime that so clearly embodies what it is that I love about anime. When Ryoko swore over a bloody headband to make Kagato pay… when she agreed to undo her ideal dimension of Bonnie and Clyde romance… when she decided to forget about her love for Tenchi and fled into space to become a pirate again… those scenes were carved into my sense of what it was to be a good anime. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that a lot of modern anime, in one way or another, wants to be the next Tenchi Muyo! If you haven’t seen this wonderful anime, I implore you to watch it. If you have seen it, then maybe you are feeling the urge to watch it again. I know I am.

The recent earthquake has done some horrible things to Japan. Shinkansen knocked out, reactors melting down, bodies washing up on the shores, people displaced from their homes, the list keeps going. One of the things that keeps impressing me, though, is the spirit of the Japanese people. There is a sense of civil service that is at the heart of the Japanese culture that touches my heart and warms my spirit. I’ve been watching news broadcasts on TV Japan and reading statements by Japanese officials… and I’ve noticed something. The majority of Japanese people seem to respond to an event like this the same way. They attempt to keep living normally and try to find a way to help the others live normally too. They go to work, trying to set things right and bring everything back to status quo. I guarantee you that the Shinkansen will be repaired quickly and people will try their best to go back to living normal lives. I believe this because that is what I’ve seen from the Japanese people over the years, a strong sense of civic duty, work ethic and personal responsibility.

There are, sadly, exceptions. Do you remember Governor Ishihara? He was one of the ones who pushed through the ridiculous anime ban a while back. Well, he has done something that has me angry at him again. I suppose he has been listening to a few American religious extremists because he has said that the earthquake and ensuing tsunami were divine punishment for Japan’s egoism. Now, he has since apologized for his remarks…  but the fact remains that with heaven-only-knows amounts of his kinsmen washing up dead on the shores… or desperately trying to stabilize reactors… or working on housing and feeding the displaced… his first reaction was “We deserved this.” Really?! I used to think of Ishihara as a man who hated anime for no good reason… but now, I’m starting to think of him as a man who hates anything that reminds him that Japanese people are human beings… and that saddens me.

So, folk out there on the internets, setting Ishihara aside, you might have noticed that the anime has been rolling in as normal. I watched Onii-chan this week with a news overlay of affected areas, but I watched it none the less. I don’t think much will change from the perspective of the overseas anime fan. If there is a country that has experience recovering from anything earthquake or nuclear-related, it is Japan. They will get up and tell themselves everything is fine, because that is what they are best at. When we see something like this happen, most Americans first reaction is “That is terrible! I need to send them money!” I’ll not discourage you from doing so, but I believe in my heart that even if Japan didn’t see a cent from America, they will be fine. The Japanese Red Cross hasn’t sent any requests for aid, but various organizations in other countries have been gathering donations to help Japan. Remember, if you wish to donate to help Japan, only do so through legitimate routes. I don’t want to see a scam artist getting rich off of the suffering of the Japanese people because you texted JAPAN somewhere. Keep an eye out for scams like that now, and during any similar tragedy in the future. It is horrible to think that people are capable of such things… but corpses always bring out the vultures.

This week, I was fortunate enough to watch two awesome episodes of two awesome series. The thing that really made them awesome was the author’s use of perspective. When I say perspective, I mean the point from which the audience views the world. If you stop to think about it, most anime pick one or two people and generally have the camera hovering somewhere around them. There are, of course, anime that cut to villains or side characters, but for the most part, the majority will pick a few main characters and stick with them. This lets the author control the impact and tone of events, as well as how much the audience knows about any given situation. For instance, let us say that we have a scene in which a supposedly evil man confronts an actually evil man who is widely believed to be good. Then, lets have a hero barge in. If we, the audience, hadn’t seen the initial conversation, we see the good man being confronted by the evil one. Now, let us say that the supposedly evil man knocks a hero unconscious and saves his life from a bomb the actually evil man had planted. Most the time, in such situations, anything that would knockout the main character knocks out the cameraman. We would wake up with our character outside of the blown-up ruins of the “good guy”s building. If our cameraman stays awake, we see an entirely different scene that raises some serious questions! Little differences in perspective can seriously color perception.

So what does this have to do with the awesome anime I saw this week? This week, Puella Magi Modoka Magica (which you should be watching if you aren’t) switched up perspective on us. The entire series I’ve been LOVING how very non-typical PMMM is for its genre. It has felt like a magical girl anime that is trying its hardest not to have a magical girl main character. We continued to follow this girl as our main character with repeated reminders about how powerful and superb a magical girl she could be… and yet she hasn’t become one. All the while, we have had a character that has attempted to thwart the main character’s ascension to relevance within her own anime. In fact, Akemi Homura has almost become a sort of antagonist as, to the audience, it feels like she has been attempting to make the anime not be about the main character. All the events of the anime keep pushing the main character towards becoming the magical girl we KNOW she can be! She is a magical girl in the opening credits! She was a magical girl in the pre-season hype! THE TITLE HAS HER NAME IN IT AS A PUELLA MAGI! Yet, for almost an entire season, we have watched her not become that magical girl. It always felt wondrously off somehow, but I didn’t know exactly why.

That is, I didn’t know why until this episode. This last episode started off with a mind-bending twist of perspective. We were no longer following Madoka, we were following Homura. We began to see the anime the way it might have been. By switching to Homura’s perspective, the entire content of the show had changed! Through that episode, we gained a second point of reference. Do you know why human beings have two eyes? Because with two points of perspective, you can gauge depth… and this was some seriously deep stuff. By changing the point from which we view the world, we learned more about all the characters… especially my favorite character… nothing says “You were always doomed to suffer this fate and there was nothing anyone could do to save you” like a good second look. Whats more, they added a little bonus for those of us who pay attention to beginnings and endings. They only had time for the opening credits at the very end of the episode and they changed the last shot of the opening credits to what they would have been, given this new perspective. It was an eye opener.

Bakuman also threw me for a loop. Technically, it should have thrown me for a loop last week, but I missed the episode and caught up this week when I noticed I’d jumped from 20 to 22 somehow. Bakuman has followed the main character Mashiro almost exclusively. On occasion, it has jumped to one of his 3 friends for a brief period but, almost the entire anime, our cameraman has remained within 15 feet of the main character. This means that we, with a few exceptions, are introduced to characters when our main character is. There is a problem with this approach, though… it reduces dramatic irony. Any time that the author feels the urge to instill dramatic irony, he has to cut away from Mashiro long enough to impart a meaningful scene. After we see what sort of person Nizuma is, the camera slides back into its natural comfortable place near our romantic protagonist.

The really great part came when it was time to suddenly thrust a pair of new characters at the audience. I don’t know about you, folks, but when I suddenly had like 28 or so new names to learn in Bleach, I could feel my interest waning. Character introduction is a tricky thing, especially if you have to break out of your traditional perspective to do it. Bakuman has, for the most part, introduced us to characters through our protagonist. We get to know them as he does, so we don’t have a lot of characterization dumped on us… but Bakuman did something GREAT here… and it started in episode 1. Throughout the show, we have had background references to a visual kei sensation named KOOGY. Nothing major, the main character has never even looked at the KOOGY posters plastered in the background… but subconsciously we’ve been noticing. We’d catch a snippet of girls talking about KOOGY’s music or see a KOOGY commercial on a downtown TV, but it never tied back into the plot. We just had KOOGY posters hanging on the wall. Suddenly, KOOGY is relevant. KOOGY is extremely relevant and it doesn’t feel like he was thrust suddenly upon us. Quite the opposite, there is a wonderful feeling of comprehension! Finally, we can tie this rogue element in!

This sort of subtle character introduction isn’t new to Bakuman alone, but I have to say that they did a very good job of it. Much like the Green Braver appearing in the background shots of the first season of Bamboo Blade, KOOGY’s media presence established his existence within the world without breaking out of the main character’s perception. Now, when we are called upon by the author to view this character, we have a sort of mental foundation to work with. We have a framework of belief. After all, it doesn’t matter how long ago the author planned a character’s place in the story. The introduction will just feel forced unless you first establish within the minds of the audience that there is a place for such a character.

Or maybe it’s just me.