Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Been watching a lot of anime lately. Some might chuckle at this and ask, “Aren’t you always?” Actually, I haven’t been watch much at all. Just not been in the mood.

But I’ve come across a bunch of oddball anime that really intrigues me. And perhaps that’s why: One of the reasons I’ve been intrigued by anime is because it’s been on the edges of society. When I first got into anime, the only place I knew of that actually sold anime locally was a Sam Goody, and that was a single shelf of VHS tapes (mostly Dragonball Z). I remember the day when Amazon.com started an anime branch of their DVD store…and it held about twenty discs total, as I recall. Now that anime has become increasingly mainstream, it’s lost that magic, that unique quality.

Which would explain why I leave my BitTorrent client running almost 24/7, downloading odd anime that hasn’t appeared over here yet. Cases in point:

  • Oseam, a Korean animated film with unfortunately simple character designs, but a tremendous story. It reminds me of Grave of the Fireflies, though in many ways I prefer Oseam. In Grave, the fate of the children is pretty darn clear all the way through. In Oseam, until about five minutes from the end I didn’t know how it would end. It was pretty clear the finale would be bittersweet at best, but I could not have predicted that ending. And boy did it hurt, which says a lot.
  • Practically the opposite of that is the first episode of Daddy Long Legs, part of the “World Masterpiece Theater” program that’s been playing fifty-episode anime adaptations of children’s books for decades in Japan (Miyazaki worked on several of these series). Daddy Long Legs tells the story of a teenaged orphan girl living in New York around the turn of the century, who is given a scholarship to a prestigious high school. She is spirited and bright but rather clumsy, so we follow her life in the style of Anne of Green Gables. Great animation, in that simplified style similar to good anime of the time. There’s a good amount of re-used animation, and poses are often held for a long time. But it looks so good–all the characters are on-model and lovingly designed. Very solid anime.
  • Kochikame is the longest-running manga in “Weekly Shonen Jump,” which says a lot. I watched a random episode from a recent anime adaptation, and unfortunately it’s a clunker. Minimal animation, unnecessarily bright digital colors, and jokes that are supposed to be funny because they’re supposed to be funny. I turned it off after ten minutes.
  • But compare that to Kamichu!, by the director and writer of the brilliant R.O.D OVA and TV series. Kamichu! is a junior high drama/comedy about a shy junior high girl who is suddenly granted the powers of a traditional Japanese goddess. She gathers a small circle of friends as she learns how to control her powers. As far as I can see from the first episode, it’s partly a coming-of-age story as she learns self-confidence, as well as a romance as she haltingly pursues a guy who’s hopeless with girls. Sounds like a mediocre modern anime, but this is all presented with such deft direction, such subtle animation, and such smart writing, that I thoroughly enjoyed every scene.
  • After War: Gundam X, on the other hand, suffers the ignominy of being the only Gundam series (except the first) to be cancelled. I’ve watched the first three episodes, and I can’t really see why: it’s slick, it’s intriguing, it’s funny, it’s got plenty of good mecha battles and strong characters, and it has some interesting things to say about the destructiveness of war. Seems like solid Gundam material to me.
  • Ditto 08th MS Team, which at least has a good reputation. Toshihiro Kawamoto’s character designs are as pleasant to look at as were his designs for Cowboy Bebop and Mighty Space Miners, and while the story is taking a while to develop, it appears to be moving along at a steady pace. I’m enjoying it thus far, two episodes in.

And that’s it so far. If I get some time, I’ll write a description of my trip to D.C. on Sunday. Thrill! As nothing exciting occurs.

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