academic article: Miyazaki -life and legacy

Here is the completed and [heavily] edited version of the article on Miyazaki that I co-authored.

It’s not great but it’s a good first step on the road to more proper academic publication.

Please give any feedback if you do read.

http://theconversation.com/miyazakis-legacy-is-sure-to-live-on-whether-or-not-he-retires-23780

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Miyazaki’s sketches for his proposed Pippi Longstocking film

Miyazaki’s sketches for his proposed Pippi Longstocking film

Lament what never was & dream of what might have been

List of coming Anime (Northern) Winter season 2013

List of coming Anime (Northern) Winter season 2013

Here is a list of upcoming anime for the end of the year and the start of January, complete with video previews and DVD releases.

Some interesting stuff on the list. Am personally looking forward to Witch Craft Works, because it’s a great manga (despite all the fan service).

Not as evolved as it should be – Anime Critique: Majestic Prince

Title: Ginga Kikotai Majesutikku Purinsu (Majestic Prince, Galatic Armoured Fleet Majestic Prince, Majesutikku Purinsu)
Format: Anime
Genre: sci-fi, mecha, shounen, space opera, super sentai hero team
Series Creator: written by Ayamine Rando, illustrated by Niijima Hikaru
Series Director: Motonaga Keitaro
Studio: Dogakobo, Orange (licenced by Sentai Filmworks)
Series length: 24 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 4 – September 19 2013
Reviewed format: high-def TV rips with Commie fansubs

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Synopsis:

In the year 2110, humanity has expanded its frontier into space in its drive for new resources. Advances in genetic engineering research led to the establishment of the “MJP Project”, which saw the creation of genetically enhanced humans known as the “evolved children”, developed with the intention of allowing humans to adapt to the new frontier. However when Earth finds itself under threat by an extremely advanced but numerically inferior alien race called the Wulgaru, human forces decide to have the evolved children deployed as soldiers to fight on the front lines.

Team Rabbits, a quintet of evolved children whose troubling lack of teamwork and common sense prevents them from reaching their true potential, are selected as test pilots of cutting edge mobile battle suits called AHSMB (Advanced High Standard Multipurpose Battle Device), powered by the “JULIA system”, a cutting edge technology whose effectiveness in combat is increased according to the survival instincts of whoever uses it. As they join forces to overcome their personal weaknesses and achieve their true potential, the members of Team Rabbits eventually assume a key role in mankind’s effort to thwart the alien invasion of Earth


 

Review:

Ginga Kikotai Majesutikku Purinsu (aka Majestic Prince) was one of two new Space Opera Mecha series that began in the first half of 2013, debuting a week before Valvrave the Liberator. The latter series actually being superior yet similar in so many, some of which shall be addressed later in this review.

As described within the synopsis above Majestic Prince is about, like so many other Mecha anime series, teenagers, already struggling to find their own personal identity & place within the world/universe, being forced to fight menace that is both technologically & biologically beyond their comprehensions. There is no arguing that this is a familiar trope to anime over the past 30 or so years, basically beginning in popular consciousness with the original Mobile Suit Gundam series (0079), to which all other space Mecha series will inevitably be compared (at least in the Western consumer mind).
So, let us get this out of the way first: is Majestic Prince in any way reminiscent of any of the Gundam franchise beyond the giant mecha suits?
In a word: no.
Although all Mecha series has some hark back to Gundam in one way or another, this at least strives to be a touch different in its designs & characterisation. If anything, it is designed to be more of a call to the Super Sentai genre (Power Rangers in Western terms), with a team dynamic yet with characters who are, at first, anathema to working as a cohesive unit.

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Like many other Mecha of recent years, it puts the characters first & their respective machines secondary, more extensions of their bodies & personalities than cold machines. That is the major conceit of the series, that these genetically created children work with what is known as the JULIA System, which is designed to enhance their fight-or-flight instincts so they can pilot their mechas -referred to in series as AHSMB. The AHSMB themselves have some interesting & varied designs for each pilot, each of whom has their respective functions in combat, from logistics (Kei) to sniping (Suruga) to close combat (Izuru & Asagi) to high speed tactics (Tamaki). Their designs are, overall, very unique, especially Kei’s Purple 2 which is only semi humanoid, Tamaki’s bulky yet swift Rose 3 & Suruga’s Gold 4, which is an interesting take on the weapons platform design. Red 5 & Blue 1, both being close/medium range units fit the typical mecha humanoid designs. Especially with Red 5 being the typical ‘hero’ unit, with the potential to transform/awaken into a more efficient state.

The trouble with placing the emphasis on distinguishing the 5 main protagonist with their mecha, their actual characters tend to fall more to trope & cliche, even if it seems that they were originally to be cheeky satires upon them.

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The five central characters -Izuru, Asagi, Kei, Tamaki & Suruga- form Team Rabbits but are more commonly referred to as “the Failure Five” because of their low test scores & inability to work together under any circumstances. Their designs & personalities are all meant to be set against each other but, unfortunately, it does mean that their characterisation falls largely to cliche without much actually development.
Suruga is a military geek who is obsessed with hitting on women but messes it up when he gets carried away going on about military hardware, especially weapons.
Tamaki is the hypersexualised (read extra busty) boy-crazy airhead who thinks only of her stomach.
Kei is her opposite, being calm & cold but really shy & finds it hard to express herself, as well as being a terrible cook.
Asagi wants to be team leader but suffers from constant stage fright, giving him ulcers & rendering him useless in stressful situations.
While Izuru is the happy-go-lucky central protagonist who has dreams of becoming a Sentai style hero, like the one in the manga he’s always drawing yet totally lacks the talent at anything artistic.
Whilst interesting at first, they never seem to develop as characters much beyond their combat capabilities & turning from useless into a well working elite military force. All despite their hesitations & questioning their place in the world as humans genetically developed solely for combat.

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The Failure Five are surrounded by an extensive cast of supporting characters but they too fall too readily to trope. From the mysterious alien princess to the cold commander to the cynical yet caring female captain & her chief mechanic -who is rendered entirely in extreme cleavage- & all the mechanics that support each unit & pilot. Lots of potential in chances for conflict & development but most of it sadly wasted.
Even the introduction of the androgynous pilot of Black 6, Ange, suffers from wasted potential as they (Ange’s gender is never disclosed & the team can never decided on what it is) quickly shows a split personality begin humble quiet personal life to a raging berserker as soon as they step into their AHSMB.
Even the offsider senpai in Team Doberman are all cliched in being the brash sex obsessed leader, the calculating 2nd in command who is tired of his team mates antics & who tries to get them to focus to the young shota trying to gain the approval of the other pilots & win the love of Tamaki, who ignores him because he’s so small.

They do make some attempts to flesh out the enemy, the Wulgaru, but their characters & motivations become muddled & confused. With each having their own unexplained agenda & desires but never given the time to develop, Indeed, some of them are killed with little fanfare & one even by his own superior for confusing reasons that got lost in some subplot about political intrigue within the Wulgaru hierarchy. The enemy are portrayed as selfish creatures who only live for their own desires & to hunt genetically compatible creatures so they can extend their lifespans.

This leads into my biggest & constant critique of the anime & of the sci-fi genre as a whole: That humans are portrayed as special & that the Japanese are more special for the simple grace that they are Japanese.

Now, this is a great commonality within any sci-fi produced by any nation. That they (the nation that creates the media) are the centre of the universe & are somehow endowed with an almost divine grace whilst the other races display their worst stereotypes.

Within Majestic Prince it’s the power bases of China & Russia being cowardly & self interested, not willing to commit to the war raging in the solar system because they want to position themselves better once everything’s won or so they can surrender to the invaders with the least amount of losses. This plays to the worst aspects of Japanese media culture, that they are the saviour as well as the victim, & that their neighbouring nations are somehow subhuman because they lack the strength of spirit or character that they, the Japanese (or any other producer of media) possesses.

Speaking of endowment, that leads to my other major issue with the series & that is the level of fan-service involved. Almost all the female characters are sexualised in some way, especially Tamaki who is also viewed within her cockpit in a position that shows off her breasts & arse. Many of the female characters are portrayed as being extremely busty or highly sexualised in other ways & those female characters who aren’t are often shown as having an inadequacy over their bodies -such as how Kei views herself with her all female pitcrew. Valrave the Liberator also suffered massively with issues of playing too much to hyper-sexualisation & fanservice but where as that series seemed aimed more for an older teenage/young adult audience, Majestic Prince looked to be aimed squarely at the typical Shounen audience & thus plays to those aspects, even though it seemingly wants to satirise them.

It may seem as though that I’m am spending my time bagging the series out but it has the problem that so many manga adaptation have in that you do not have the same time to develop characters & ideas on the screen as you do on the page. Overall, I found Majestic Prince an enjoyable series -otherwise I wouldn’t have watched all 24 episodes- but it exists to me as only a piece of popcorn-like fluff. To be consumed & then basically forgotten about. Fun at the time but not something you’ll probably find yourself thinking back on years later. That is to say that it won’t have it’s ardent fans, every series does, but I feel that it won’t stand the test of time like other franchises. More so with the ending, being typical manga adaptation, leaving aspects open & some things unresolved so they have a chance to extend the franchise if it process popular enough. On a side note, as an avid collector of plamo (plastic construction models from various Mecha series) there hasn’t been any of the kits based upon the series released or announced as far as I currently know. The only merchandise that I could find on my usually online import haunts are, again, hyper-sexualised models of some of the female characters.

So, is Majestic Prince something to shake up the Mecha genre? No.
Is it worth watching? Yes but only after a fashion.

If you are already a consumer of the genre, this will fill your needs nicely. The humour in it brings a giggle, the animation is exceptionally pretty. The space battles are fast paced & hyper-kinetic yet not to confusing even when showing high speed actions. Overall, those invested in the genre with all its tropes & cliches won’t mind this. If not, it probably won’t change your mind but there are far worst things out there to watch.

So Cute It Hurts – Anime Critique: Acchi Kocchi

Title: Acchi Kocchi (Atchi Kotchi, Here & There, All Over the Place, Place To Place)
Format: Anime
Genre: Slice of Life Comedy, 4koma, romantic comedy
Series Creator: Ishiki
Series Director: Oizaki Fumitoshi
Studio: AIC (licenced by Sentai Filmworks)
Original Airing dates: April 5 – June 28, 2012
Reviewed format: blu-ray with fansubs

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Synopsis:

    “The serious-minded Io & the pure-hearted Tsumiki feel they never want to be parted, but haven’t become a couple yet. More than friends but less than lovers, they develop an awkward quasi-romance.

Review:

To begin, I must plead utter bias because this is one of my all time favourite anime series ever made. I’ve seen it four times since it first screened & cannot sing its praises enough to people. It was a series that instantly appealed to me because of my love for other similar series, such as 2002’s Azumanga Daioh & the K-On! Franchise. Both of which also started from the 4koma manga format (4 panel strip style comics).

The series focuses on a group of five friends -Tsumiki, Io, Mayoi, Sakaki & Hime- & their strange daily lives but this isn’t a show present in a realistic way. The art style is very much exaggerated, to emphasis the cuteness (moe & kawaii) of the characters & situations, with Tsumiki being presented with cat-like features -sprouting ears & a tail- to show her hidden emotions or Hime’s suddenly nosebleeds. The comedy is based a lot upon quick puns & the interactions of the characters, focussing especially on Tsumiki & Io.

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    Tsumiki is classified as a tsundere style of character -outwardly cold to hide her loving feelings- & the object of her affections is the kindly but often dense Io, who treats her in a friendly manner even though she wants more from him. Her inability to communicate her desires combined with Io’s failings to read deeper into situations leads to teasing down by the manic genius Mayoi & the mischievous Sakaki, who often receive physical retribution from Tsumiki for their efforts. She often gets into awkward situations trying to get Io’s attention or accidentally playing out something that she imagines but her feelings are genuine, as she just tries to be close to him, even if it causes their friends to tease them in a friendly way.

The other source of humour comes from well timed & placed running gags -such as Hime suffering from nosebleeds whenever she sees the psuedo-romantic interactions of Tsumiki & Io or whenever she sees something cute (such as Tsumiki in a costume or Io’s playing with a cat). Other running gags come from Io accidentally charming the female cast, often resulting in wide spread nosebleeds & fainting, or acts of (comically done) superhuman violence, often performed on Mayoi. The humour is designed to be fast paced but seldom going over the audience’s head (issues with translation & subtitle speeds not withstanding).

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    Other than the animation/art style, what truly makes this anime sweet & well done is how excellently all the characters are rendered. You know who they are quickly without them falling into tropes & cliches. Tsumiki is a loli-like tsundere without being rendered in such forms as other, more stereotyped characters like Louise from The Familiar of Zero or Aria from Aria the Scarlet Ammo. She often has cat-like features sprout on her & is rendered in a chibi fashion but is superhumanly strong & fast.
Io initially appears as your typical studious type, with his neat appearance & glasses, but shows many hidden physical skills & other talents -such as being an excellent pastry & sweets chef, skilful gamer & (unknowingly) charming to people whom he meets.
His best friend, Sakaki, is laid back but still sharp, able to pinpoint when Io is at his most dense in regards to Tsumiki’s affections. Whilst Mayoi, who is always seen in her trademark labcoat, is depicted as a trouble making airhead but is, in fact, a mechanic genius, able to create elaborate devices in short periods of time. Leaving Hime as a super average girl, who has trouble with technology & cannot perform the same superhuman feats as her friends, but has a sweet, caring soul which can be easily distracted by anything cute, causing a jet of blood to burst from her nose.
They are surrounded by an equally well depicted supporting cast, which includes Sakaki’s older sister, Miiko, who has floppy dog-like ears drawn in her hair & runs the cakeshop Hachi Pochi, where Hime & Io work party time, & carries dog themes through it.

The series ran for twelve episodes with an OVA released with the blu-ray collection & each episode is divided into two parts, A & B, with a special omake, called Acchi Kindergarten, at the end of each episode that also doubles as the next episode trailer (which is scrolling script along the bottom of the screen). Each scene or segment has special animations based around circles & arrows linking each other, which also serves to enhance the jokes or the running gags. The series, as a whole, covers the course of a year, starting & ending in winter & covering events such as Valentine’s Day & White Day (featured twice in the series), summer holidays as well as Christmas & New Years celebrations, with each episode being self-contained in each half but still continuing with gags & references from episodes that came before.

When comparing the anime series with the original manga, it is one of the few series that becomes superior to its original printed form. In Ishiki’s original 4-koma manga, the illustrations of the characters are exceptionally well rendered, often looking odd & amateurish, where as the anime gives them better forms & far more details -especially in Tsumiki’s cat-like actions. The manga has far more developed jokes & running gags, from which the anime only tends to use from the 1st volume (there 5 volumes published & the series is still ongoing), so I find it surprising that there still has not been a 2nd series with the amount of unused material that they have available.

Another exceptional part of the series is the incidental music by Yokoyama Masaru. It’s subtle and minimalist, using electronic (almost 16 bit) keys & instruments such as clarinets & acoustic guitars yet has its high energy moments when the scene calls for it. They are the kind of tunes that you can easily find yourself humming & they don’t overpower any scenes. Both the Opening & Ending themes are sung by the main cast saiyu.

There are only a few negatives that I can give this series & they are almost all to do with the subtitling & translations. I originally watched the TV broadcasts with the subs done by the Commie group but their lack of honourifics & explanations is exceptionally grating to me. The blu-ray was subbed by a different group but they had issues in regards to panels covering the between scene animations as well as the on screen text. The lack of closure on character relationship was also a vexing issue but excusable because of the ongoing manga. It is also my fervent wish that they make a 2nd series or movie but that is unfortunately unlikely at this point in time -despite its apparent popularity within Japan.

In quick regards to issues of Soft Power, this series is a god example of its possible positive uses because it doesn’t render the series as ‘culturally odourless’ & does retain many tropes, habits & visuals that can be called very Japanese. It does go through many of the cliched forms with the holidays & traditions but calls many of them to question, such as White Day, where men return the favour of receiving a gift from a woman on Valentine’s Day. Over all it plays to trope & cultural expectations within the media but doesn’t let itself be dominated by them. It also, surprisingly, lacks many other typical elements of the genre, such as references to the supernatural (such as ghost stories, even though it talks about fortune telling) or pandering to fan service. The female characters are cute but not sexualised, playing more upon the original form of moe. Most of the sexualisation is actually played upon Io’s character, with the female characters performing the traditional male reaction of bleeding noses & overheating from their desires.

Again, this is a series that I cannot recommend enough. It is so sweet & cute that it cannot help but make me smile whilst watching it. The rapid fire gags & strong visual jokes literally brought tears to my eyes but the undercurrent of the bourgeoning sense of a mature romance between Tsumiki & Io is portrayed in such a fashion that you can’t help but feel for them both. Especially as the dense Io begins to understand his own feelings. Unfortunately due to the manga still continuing, that part of the story was never drawn to a proper conclusion but it is forgivable due to the sweetness of the characters & the series as a whole. Acchi Kocchi is guaranteed to leave a painfully sweet smile on face & have you giggling ages later as you randomly recall a joke or visual gag. This is a series that I cannot get enough off & constantly find myself looking to rewatch when I want to take a break from other viewing. It may be too saccharine for some but it is perfect for me & that, in the end, is what counts.

The 1st post is always the hardest

This is a new blog dedicated to my view of the world of Pop Culture, mainly focussed around various forms of literature (though mostly fantasy & sci-fi), degrees of academia (including drafts of my upcoming articles & theses), manga & anime, games & gaming, films, various reviews & some indulgence in nostalgia.

With what one would deem “nerd”, “geek” & “alternative media” cultures becoming more and more aligned to more mainstream cultural & commercial products, it is my intention to present different points of view upon the every changing worlds of popular and media cultures.

I shall be posting reviews, opinion pieces, discussions, retrospectives and personal indulgences as well as drafts of academic works as they come to hand.

From the standpoint of both an academic and an avid consumer of various cultural and media products.

A brief background of myself:

  • I am currently working on a Masters degree in Media Studies & Literature specialising in manga & anime. My undergraduate work was in Film Studies, English Literature, Creative Writing & Philosophy.
  • am considered a world expert in Supernatural narrative anime, due to being one of the few academics currently researching that genre as a standalone subject.
  • am a writer who has had several articles & short stories published & am currently attempting to finish a fantasy novel. Extracts of which may be posted here in future.
  • am avid music fan who is well entrenched in Heavy Metal & its many sub-genres & have also fronted several (not great) Metal bands in the past.
  • I also engage in cross-platform gaming & try not to engage in exclusive fanisms over which console/platform, series, producers/companies or era may or may not be the best.

I am aiming to prove that is indeed “the Geek Shall Inherit The World“.