An Important Message from Japan #7

22 07 2008

News coming in on the wire!



Onsen in Space

22 03 2008

I have to hand it to anime writers, they really can work an Onsen into any situation imaginable.


Onsen Onsen!



Shigurui Review

11 02 2008

Genre: Historical Drama, Gore
Main Studio: Madhouse
Episodes: 12

No-one has seen Shigurui. You haven’t seen Shiguri. He hasn’t seen Shigurui. They haven’t seen it…. I have seen it. What does that say about me? A good way of measuring how many people have seen a show is by how many people have bothered rating it on animenewsnetwork , in this case a mere 51 people. So why don’t people watch it? Probably because it’s about as penetrable as a steel reinforced mountain, but also because because unlike most of anime it seems to actually be aimed at adults. No, not teens, real adults with jobs and stuff. Actually, I’m not sure if I can pin exactly who the target demographic of the show is.

When you get down to it, Shigurui is largely a discourse on the devastating effect a Katana can have on the human body. The show is a seinen historical drama by animation studio Madhouse, and genius director Hirotsugu Hamasaki who’s last work was the brilliant Texhnolyze (a show so great that it actually sickens me to think that almost no-one has seen it). Shigurui isn’t quite that brilliant unfortunately, but it’s still pretty darned good. Shigurui is an anime based on a manga, based on a novel, so there’s a lot of background reading to do if you really want.

Kogan Ryuu Dojo
How exciting does this look, eh?

The plot is set in a very grim Edo-era Japan, and is based around the Kogan Ryuu Dojo where a man named Irako Seigen challenges the Dojo members seeking to learn their hidden technique. It is also about the eccentricities of the Dojo’s six-fingered master Kogan, who is very old but still incredibly powerful but yet is teetering on the edge of senility. Kogan is very unpredictable and while he has brief moments of clarity, and he also brief moments of wanting to do horrible things to women. The dojo members serve Kogan’s whims as best they can, as they are eager to get him to impart any knowledge he has to them. Anyway, Irako ends up pissing off Fujiki who is a member of the Dojo, along with all the other Dojo members, and gets himself cast out and blinded with a nasty Katana slash to the eyes. The rest of the story features his quest for more powerful techniques, and him using them on the Dojo members, and sometimes passing cats.

Lol Shigurui
I Can Has Massive Trauma?

This show has a curiously impenetrable style to it, one that really leaves it to the viewer to work out what the hell is going on. It doesn’t really tell a story, it merely implies it. If you lack familiarity with the concept of a traditional Dojo, then a lot of what’s going on will just leave you highly confused. It also has a rather unsettling introduction. From a visual point of view it goes for a subdued almost monochrome effect, and many of the scenes aren’t animated a great deal. This is presumably so that when the fights do occur, they can make the animation incredible. Stylistically speaking the fights aren’t the sort where they leap all over the roof tops, but they rather focus on the precise moment of contact between two opponents slowed down to the degree required for you to appreciate the subtlety of their swordsmanship skills.

For those of you too baffled by the story to make much sense of it, you can still rely on Shigurui to serve you up some of the goriest scenes ever rendered in the medium of animation. This show is very eager to display the interaction between katana blade and flesh. Within the first 5 minutes, someone reaches a katana wound across their stomach, and pulls out his own intestines, presenting them to his master in attempt to convince him he is serious. Another delightful scene has Kogan jamming a katana blade into his assistant Ushimata’s mouth, destroying his teeth and carving two slits all down his cheek. This wound is shown regularly throughout the show, as Sake leaks out from it whenever Ushimata takes a swig, and his jaw occasionally drops unnaturally widely open due to the damaged muscles. While the gore is rather extreme, it somehow manages to get away with never seeming gratuitous, as it always serves the plot and is never just gore for gore’s sake.

I believe it was “Urghlblbllgh”

On of the main themes in Shigurui seem to be the idea of making yourself stronger through crippling injuries. A scene at the beginning of the first episode takes place chronologically after the show ends, which in itself is an issue that reminiscent of Berserk‘s legendary first episode. This scene shows a fight between Irako and Fujiki who have been crippled my many years of training. Fujiki has only one arm which has gained immensely oversized muscles, and a massive gash in his foot which he somehow incorporated into his fighting stance. Irako has adapted his fighting to being blind, and is also deformed after many injuries, though you get the feeling that they are more dangerous now than they would be if they weren’t injured.

This show doesn’t have the slightest glimmer of a sense of humour to it, unless of course you find people being cut to chunks in immense detail with swords amusing. The tone is kept subdued, realistic, and there are absolutely no wacky anime cliches to be found. With that said, it’s probably quiet apparent that this show won’t be for everyone. Infact it’s probably for only very few people, so best not to bother watching it really.

Arbitrary Rating – 8 Nice!

Here is some gore for you sickos:

Gore 1

Gore 2

Gore 3

Minami-Ke Review

5 01 2008

Minami-Ke Logo

Genre: Slice of Life, Comedy

Main Studio: Doumu

Episodes: 12

Minami-Ke begins each episode with the instruction not to expect very much from it, because it claims that the premise is uninteresting. In their words it is ‘a plain depiction of the everyday lives of the three Minami sisters’. Yeah, doesn’t sound that compelling does it? The sisters are not vampires who kill other vampires, they don’t have some brown-haired idiot male protagonist to fawn over, they aren’t angels from the future, and they don’t save the world at any point. The slice of like genre is like this, and this show follows in the footsteps great shows like Azumanga Daioh, Lucky Star, and uh…that nauseating Honey and Clover show I gave up on. I am going to make no attempt to keep the comparisons to Azumanga low, because it’s a comparison that should be made. They are just very similar, hell even the logo looks similar.

Minami-Ke Sisters Running
Kana, Chiaki and Haruka from the intro.

The Minami sisters all go to different schools which are the rough equivalents of primary, middle and secondary schools in the baffling Japanese school system. The youngest sister Chiaki is very serious and rarely acts her age, the eldest Haruka is motherly and runs the family. The middle sister Kana is the star of the show, and is a hyperactive Tomboy, like a cross between Kagura and Tomo from Azumanga. If the show had just been Kana on screen doing stuff for 22 minutes it would have been just as entertaining. I’m not sure what happened to their parents, presumably they died in a fire sometime before the show takes place. This sort of thing is common in Japan, or so anime would have me believe.

I think the most important thing to emphasise before continuing is quite how funny this show is. It would be quite difficult to convince you of this without painfully describing scenes in laborious detail, so I guess you’d just better trust me on this. It’s damn funny and regularly caused me minor injuries through the laughter. Anime comedy I admit is probably not a very sure sell. When most people think of Japanese humour, they probably start thinking of the WarioWare or Katamari ‘Ha Ha Ha, Oh Japan, you so wacky’ style of humour. This isn’t what this show is about by any stretch, it’s situational, character based and occasional physical, you know like normal humour. Anyone who appreciated the antics of Osaka and Tomo from Azumanga will be right at home here.

There is an extended cast of minor characters, including a different sets of classmates for each sister, the odd friend and relative, and another Minami Family who live nearby. These are the usual range of clichés, bearable but ultimately forgettable people who serve as comic setups for the sisters. For example, there’s a guy who for various reasons always has to dress as a girl when he visits the sisters house, and a tomboy girl from the other Minami family who always dresses like a boy and no-one believes she’s a girl. Lot’s of cross dressing in this show now that I think about it, which I guess is okay as it’s a British comedy staple.

The real standout character from the extended cast is a male student at Haruka’s school named Hosaka. Hosaka is about as bishōnen as it gets, so much so that he comes across as nauseating rather than attractive to other girls in the show. He constantly undoes buttons on his shirt, and thinks up incredibly elaborate romantic fantasies. He has a stilted laugh that seems to be an exaggerated impersonation of other irritating bishōnen characters, or possibly the infamous laughing scene from Final Fantasy 10, christ don’t even think of watching that unless you want to know why I hate dubs.

Minami-Ke Hosaka conducting Minami-Ke Hosaka1
Here is Hosaka doing typical Hosaka things. Imagining to conduct an orchestra from the top of a sky-scraper under construction after having dyed all the worlds crows white on the instruction of his lover. Also, imaging cooking pasta for his lover in a very theatrical manner and freaking out his classmates.

I guess I should talk about the art. A lot of people found the oddly shaped mouths of the characters designs distracting, but I honestly had no problem with it. The animation is good, and largely consistent. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as excellent as the amazing first episode leads you to believe, but it settles down into a pretty decent standard and certainly doesn’t become poor at any point. It doesn’t even have a ‘bad art’ episode which usually happens at some point in a run.

This season of Minami-Ke is over now, and while the plot didn’t exactly go anywhere, it really didn’t need to. You might want to criticise it for dropping certain plots, but this is really missing the point of the show. There are no plots per say, only sketches which sometimes have a common theme. The show ended with an absolutely hilarious sequence with Hosaka that will make me fondly remember the show for years, or maybe just months, more than weeks certainly.

Minami-Ke was based on a manga by some guy and, here’s the weird part, is being adapted by two separate studios. The second studio is airing their 12 episodes starting in this winter season, and is called ‘Minami-Ke Okawari‘, Okawari roughly means ‘Second Helping’. As far as anyone understands, this is technically not a continuation, but rather just a second attempt to adapt the show. Of course, as people are now used to the designs from the first show, the art from the seconds show is getting mixed reactions. It just looks like they get in a slightly worse artist and changed everyone’s hair colour around. This feeling of slightly negativity isn’t helped by the fact that the trailer shown appears to be an onsen episode, a cliche which they had managed to avoid up until this point. At least they are using the same voice actors.

Arbitrary Rating: 9 – Great!