Monday, July 31

Discovering Japan: Anime and Learning Japanese Culture

Annie Manion
A Master’s Thesis Submitted to East Asian Studies Center
University of Southern California

I recently took a course in anthropology called “Japanese Popular Culture”.

Knowing from my research that there are many students at USC interested in anime, Japanese film, videogames and manga, I expected the class to be full of otaku . I was surprised to find the class was comprised mostly of people who knew very little about Japan, but for some reason were attracted to some aspect of Japanese pop culture, whether it was fashion, music, or as was most often the case, anime. They were not there to learn more about something they already had a passion for, as the otaku I expected to see in the class, but rather to learn more about something they knew hardly anything about.

Since the success of the animated series Pokemon in the late nineties, Japanese animation has been enjoying greater popularity and recognition in America. Known increasingly by the Japanese term “anime”, Japanese animation is gaining recognition as a medium that appeals to children and young people. Anime has had an undeniable effect on American popular culture.

For example, many children’s cartoons, such as The Powerpuff Girls and Kim Possible have begun to use an anime copycat style, “anime looks [were] leaping from the screen” at last fall’s fashion runways , and Hollywood blockbusters either use animated scenes directly (Kill Bill Vol. 1) or borrow imagery from anime (The Matrix Trilogy).

Though the effect anime is having on the visual style of American entertainment and fashion is easy to see, the implication of anime’s growing popularity for its country of origin, Japan, are much less clear. In the following discussion, I will report my findings on the basis of a poll, and take a closer look at the role anime plays in stimulating interest in Japan, and the ways in which interest in anime and Japanese popular culture are closely related to an interest in Japan.

It is in fact difficult to tease the two apart from each other, since it is impossible to participate in anime fan culture, except at the very shallowest level, and not be exposed to other forms of Japanese popular culture and traditional Japanese culture, and thereby be encouraged to explore them further. Anime and its relationship to interest in Japan are useful to consider in the context of teaching and learning about Japan. At the very least, one would think that a medium as easy

The rest of article is here.

Ready to Explode: Exploring the Cyberculture and Cyberfear of Japan in Anime

by Joseph Babcock

“It's the age of destruction,
In a world of corruption

It's the age of destruction
And they hand us oblivion.”1

-Billy Idol, Neuromancer

“The end of the world was only the beginning.”2

-Akira, 2001 Poster

Introduction: Society, Cyberpunk, and Akira

Japan, circa 1984: the Murai Jun group at the Tokyo Institute of Technology establishes the Japan University Network (JUNET), a computer system linking the mainframes of several universities.3 Japanese society witnessed many such advances in information technology during the 1980s, innovations which promised to greatly accelerate the flow of data and to replace manual labor with automated production.4 One scholar at the time predicted that “the impact of informisation [sic] on society as a whole will be as extensive as that of the industrial revolution.”5

Similar technological developments occurred worldwide during the eighties, as the foundations of the Internet sprang into being. In response, the science-fiction community began to examine the impact that this “computerization” might have on society, creating the Cyberpunk genre. Ironically, the establishment of JUNET coincided with the American publication of William Gibson's seminal Cyberpunk novel Neuromancer (1984), a brooding vision of an “informatized” society. In Japan, the themes explored by Gibson were echoed in many animated pictures, such as Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 epic Akira. Set in the dark world of 2019 Neo-Tokyo, the film depicts a near-future cyberculture.

In most aspects Akira is far from subtle; boasting vivid imagery and an evocative musical score, it is a dramatic sensory experience. It is through symbolism and metaphor, however, that the themes of the film are articulated. These subtle elements reveal the anxieties surrounding the evolution of information networks in 1980s Japan, fears which are the focus of this paper. In this analysis, I will address two primary themes. One is the importance of information freedom, which is reflected in the conflict between Neo-Tokyo's corrupt government and a rebel opposition group. The second is the threat of information technology to the human form, which is represented by physical transformation in Akira.

While the portrayal of information technology in Akira demonstrates historical trends in public opinion, it also highlights the development of such sentiments over time. Like the computer industry, the Japanese Cyberpunk genre is a changing entity. A secondary purpose of this essay is to address thematic developments in the genre, as reflected in more recent films such as Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell (1996).

The Information Society: A Corporate Vision of Utopia

Beginning in the 1960s, Japanese policymakers predicted that computer-based technologies would revolutionize the nation's existing economic and social structures.6 This future Japan, in which information would be freely transmitted through a digital network, was described as an “information society” by Professor Hayashi Yujiro of the Tokyo Institute of Technology7. In Beyond Computopia (1988), Tessa Morris-Suzuki argues that this “informatised [sic]” society represents a “technocrats' Utopia, a public justification for the policies desired by economically powerful groups.”8 At the time, these groups were the zaibatsu, vertical hierarchies comprised of multiple corporations - mega-corporations of a sort - which rose to dominate the Japanese economy in the wake of World War II.9

Many Japanese citizens worried that the zaibatsu would become further empowered by this new society. Anti-establishment groups claimed that an “information society” would in actuality be a “controlled society”10 dominated by large corporations.11 The primary fear regarding this system, according to Morris-Suzuki, was that an increased freedom of information would allow these corporations to compile detailed “dossiers” 12 about their potential customers - with or without the knowledge of Japan's citizens. The “information society” was seen as a means to control knowledge, not liberate it. The flow of data would move in one direction, towards the zaibatsu. Indeed, Morris-Suzuki argues that the information society was but a “vast mechanism for converting the knowledge created by society into a source of corporate profits.”13 The control of information through technology became a form of power, a notion which, as I will argue, appears in Akira.

Given the massive influence of several Japanese corporations in the 1980s international market, such as the Nintendo company14, it seems small wonder that foreigners also imagined a future of information-brokering Japanese zaibatsu. This impact is clear in the opening to Neuromancer, which Gibson sets in the “Night City”15 underground of urban Chiba. The tensions surrounding the “computerization” of Japanese society in the eighties are mirrored in the work of Gibson and other Cyberpunk authors. Like Japan's citizens, the protagonists of the Cyberpunk world desire freedom and security of information, information which has been exploited by corrupt conglomerates. While Japan was not the only society undergoing “computerization” during the eighties, it held an important position at the head of this technological evolution.

The rest of article is here.

Extremely fascinating article for anime sci fi lovers.


March 6, 2003

Inspired by a team of two-dimensional heroes, at least one sector of the Japanese economy is booming. The legendary Astro Boy, Pokemon, Mazinger Z, Gundam, Sailor Moon, and Martian Successor Nadesico are just some of the names that have become familiar around the globe as Japanese cartoons, or anime, have cemented their place as the world's favorite form of animated entertainment. Now the national and some local governments are working with the anime industry to ensure that tomorrow's top animators receive the training and support they need to maintain this success.

Growing Mainstream Recognition
About 60% of all cartoons watched by people around the world today originate in Japan. Collectively dubbed "Japanimation," Japanese cartoons incorporate the broadest range of themes, from action heroes and space operas to martial arts, monster battles, school life, and fantasy worlds - with a cast of colorful characters to match.

The full-fledged export of anime titles began in the 1970s. Astro Boy gained popularity in Asia and the United States, while Mazinger Z was a hit in Europe. Non-Japanese have always been a part of the hard core of anime fans. However, it was Pikachu and his fellow monsters that really pushed Japanese animation into the mainstream of global entertainment. Pocket Monsters (Pokemon) was anime's first major commercial success outside Japan. Pokemon: The First Movie, which was released at the end of 1999, was a number-one box office smash in the United States, and the Pokemon TV series was eventually broadcast in more than 60 countries. In monetary terms, some ¥1.2 billion (US$10 million at 120 yen to the dollar) worth of card games were shipped to every corner of the world, and the franchise generated merchandising sales of ¥1 trillion ($8.3 billion) in Japan and another ¥2 trillion ($16.7 billion) abroad.

Anime has been a major component of entertainment in Japan since World War II. Members of the "first anime generation," born in the late 1950s and 1960s, absorbed television anime as children and, now in their thirties and forties, are passing on their enthusiasm to their own children. Roughly 60 anime programs are broadcast on Japanese TV every week, not all of them aimed at children; many of them are made for adult audiences. The value of the domestic market for anime products, including films, videos, and character merchandise, has been estimated at ¥3 trillion ($25.0 billion), with foreign sales boosting the figure closer to ¥10 trillion ($83.3 billion) by some estimates.

The rest of article can be read here.

Sunday, July 30

Otaku Obsession at Expo 2006

By Tina Tsai, Jul 28, 2006

This year’s 15th Anniversary Anime Expo (AX) was another record-breaker — 42,000 attendees — proving the success of this convention, the anime genre, and the exponential growth of J-pop into American culture. There was lots and lots of free cake and live performances by AX Idol Stephanie Yanez and her new band SLY, and the favorite Asian American rock band Random Ninjas.

From a Sushi demo to a How to Draw Manga workshop, from Idol singing contests to dances, karaoke and showings of anime films, there’s no doubt you get your money’s worth at this convention with 24-hour programming. Oh, and don’t forget all the cosplay and celebrity guests from Asia and the U.S. Even natives of the Los Angeles area leave this convention jetlagged, getting a full pseudo-trip-to-Asia experience.

The squeals and deafening cheers of fans at the CLAMP panel (a famous group of manga/graphic novel artists) were accompanied by plenty of picture-taking. But this year’s Exhibition Hall missed some fan favorites. Jet Li’s supposedly last martial arts flick Fearless was nowhere to be found, and there were no new exciting Naruto items or even any wizard’s staffs at the weapons shops.

t was only afterward that I found out they were selling Potion, an energy drink in Japan inspired by the Final Fantasy XII role playing game (RPG). In RPGs, players can drink “potions” to increase health points during battles against random monsters or tough-to-beat bosses. I, for one, hate energy drinks, but since I saw the commercial for it on YouTube, I’ve been ready to down whatever is in those beautiful blue bottles. They could probably put gasoline in there, label it Final Fantasy XII Potion, and I would still drink it — OK, well, maybe not, but you get what I mean.

There were also a number of hot film screenings. First off, this year’s AX FUNimation premiered the movie Fullmetal Alchemist. It was spawned by the anime series about two young brothers who try to bring their mother back to life with alchemy. There was also the movie version of Densha Otoko (or Train Man), inspired by a true story about a young otaku — hardcore anime fan — in Japan that protects a woman from harassment on the subway and then attempts to ask her out. I’ve seen the TV series version of this and have wanted to catch the movie version ever since.

One news bite that got out was about the American debut of the Japanese live-action film Azumi this month. Aside from a few corny lines and a predictable plotline, the visuals are beautiful and you gotta love the main character — an orphaned girl raised to be an assassin for the good of the nation. Plus, now there’s an Azumi 2, which means you’ll find me asking about it at the Kinokuniya bookstore in Little Tokyo.


Friday, July 28

Fate/Stay Night (2006)

Story & Characters

In history of ongoing time, 7 special people chosen to be Masters in Holy Grail War. Fighting it out until last one standing, they using spirits known as Heroic Spirits or Servants to aid them in this War. The Servants based on legendary figures from mythos or history have impressive power and often caused wholescale destruction. Divided into classes of Archer, Assassin, Berserker, Caster, Rider, Lancer and Saber which denotes their specialty and weapons ability. The last battle fought 10 years ago in Japan\'s Fuyuki City, resulted in leveling of few city blocks killed many innocent people in massive flames. Emiya Shirou is the sole survivor of the disaster and he was picked up by a kind stranger with wan look on his face. As he grow up he learned that this stranger was a Magi and he determined to emulate his foster father as hero for justice. For years he has carry this conviction and shape himself up for the day where he can be protector of justice but his foster father refused to train him in magical arts. After sometime, the foster father died and Shirou grow up to be a fine boy living his life normally while practicing his craft in secret. Then a strange encounter happens when he saw an inhuman duel between 2 men using archaic weapon in his school yard late in day change his life forever. While staggering from this strange encounter, he met a beautiful blonde woman with stern green emerald eyes clad in armour announcing that he was her Master and she is prepared to fight in his stead as Saber while bright moonlight reflecting her brilliant armour.

"Servant Saber arrive as summoned. Inquiry. Are you my Master?"

Fate/Stay Night is second major story created by Kinoko Nasu and it created a storm in Japan as one of the bestselling novel game. Published in early 2004, it sold off 104,000 copies on release, and inevitably in early 2006, we got to see the anime animated by Studio DEEN. After the debacle of Shingeshutan Tsukihime, many fans asked if history is going repeat itself or not.

Rating 10


The art is not spectacular but it is good enough to convey the mood of the anime. In some parts the art dropped little bit but it is not that noticeable. The colour is not too pastel and garish, the background is bit static considering it is 24 episode series. Character designs are often accused as pandering to fanboy wet dream from leather clad Rider to short skirt Rin Tohsaka gracing the scenes. Even Archer is considered to have generic handsome man look but the accusation is baseless in my opinion.

In some battle scenes the art comes up a notch or two while during the conversation phase, it is often reduced to long shots of talking heads and eye expression.

However they kept the character design of original game and it was decision because the original art made the character look alive because of very lively eye expression. During the conversation phase this is important as the anime is quite heavy in conversation aspect and subtle changes of their eye expression is what makes the characters special. Rin especially carry this aspect strongly as she can be considered as the most complicated character in the story.

However in the middle of the series, the art quality drop noticeably. Typical mid series problem of lack of sufficient budget and time.

Rating 6


The 1st opening song "Disillusion" by Sachi Tanaka is a variation of original opening from the game with more soulful melody instead of hard edge techno from the original opening. It set the correct mood for the anime whereas Jukai's "Anata ga Ito Mori" wraps up the excellent sound track bundle of the anime. But the real star is Kenji Kawai again with his masterful rendition actually make the story more poignant and insightful with his touching sound tracks. For example the theme for Saber evoked a warrior\'s dignity and nobility tone whereas Rider\'s theme gives a sense of foreboding with female lethality and beauty in motion.

The voices of character fits in the place except for Sakura who sounded a bit too high generic for her character stereotype. Rin Tohsaka\'s VA however takes the cake by showcasing subtleness in proper tone and hard edged when she is angry. But when Rin is being smug or sacrastic, one can actually feel it which a testament to her VA\'s skill, Ueda Kana.

Rating 8


Some characters specialized in niche area of the story.

Fujimura seems to control the slapstick comedy aspect whereas Rin 's role is sacrastic humor department, does liven up the otherwise a dark story. Saber was more like non-chalant humor generator.

The concept is slow build up to an epic ending as the gamestory does showing how Shirou tribulations before he become a true hero in protecting people that he loves. Thus the numerous discussion or talky scenes is essential in creating plot devices to push the story forward.

The anime seems to alternate between discussion phase and brief if spirited action sequence. The anime makers is trying to strike a balance between these to address the complexity of the story. The atmosphere is one of mysticism and dark forebodings as the magus and Servants alike scrambling for the Holy Grail. What I like is the anime succeded in striking balance between two phases, first explaining why they have to be what they be and resolution(s) of the issues at hand with action.

One thing that does absent in anime which make the original material so enjoyable is extensive internal monologues which provided so much insight into the characters especially Shirou. That is the few flaws I can find with this anime.

During the Berserker arc however, the art quality and story progression is not on par with earlier episodes, much to my disappointment. It seems they suffered by limitation of budget here. But the jarring story transition is what makes it not so enjoyable. The subsequent Caster story arc also plagued by 1 not clearly explained issue which I let the viewers to find out. These 2 arcs did decrease my enjoyment of the series.

However the ending is very beautiful and moving, fits the characters life as they should be.

Overall, up to this point, this is one of the best anime in 2006 and it is clearly DVD worthy. Below is my small tribute to this awesome story.

The story is moving and tragic, as heroes and heroines forced to fight again, reliving their legends then get killed or kill in the end. You can say the magus are evil for not giving these so called heroic spirits peace by summoning them for totally unrelated war. Assassin made a good point that he was cursing the day that he was summoned to the world again. By plying to their desire to have the Grail, they awaken again to relive human frailties tampering their heroic deeds. It must be vexing for them to fight for the prize and relive their life\'s as they know it but in such alien circumstances.

Adding to that too, is the usual human story of maguses who fought for honour, for tradition or pacifistic altruism in this totally inhumane war.Not forgetting the all too familiar greed for more power. The fact that they not able living their life as normal people must be quite a strain on their being. It is sad too, to see a decent bloke like Shirou lost his normal life and get embroiled into something like Holy Grail War. Sometimes, the most precious thing life can give is semblance of normal life. His life will never be the same again. No more ignorant bliss. Maybe he wants it, maybe he don\'t.

Then Saber, with her commitment to protect her all-too-naive current Master also is quite sad too. She is a warrior who is fighting an alien war in distant time which have nothing to do with her real life. The only thing she has is her desire to acquire the Grail. At such heavy cost to fulfill an obligation that she felt responsible for.

The list goes on. Perhaps I am too pessimistic.

That's how I see Fate/Stay Night as.: A collection of sad stories with brave, heroic tragedy in poetic quality. This anime has build up slowly the reason why heroes/heroines exist and why they willing to fight for. Ultimately heroes/heroines is people who capable of self sacrifice for a cause they believe in.

Rating 7

Thursday, July 27

Kill Bill Prequels

Kill Bill anime prequels?

CALIFORNIA (KP International) – Quentin Tarantino recently revealed a keen interest in continuing the samurai-swashbuckling action saga Kill Bill. This time, he's thinking prequels and anime.

While at the Comic-Con in San Diego to promote his new horror flick Grind House with cowriter/director/producer Robert Rodriguez (of Sin City and From Dusk Till Dawn fame), the Pulp Fiction director strayed from topic.

According to TMZ, Tarantino said one prequel would explore Bill's past, including his encounters with Pai Mei, Esteban Vihaio and Hattori Hanzo. The other would follow Beatrice before she became The Bride and probably her time working for Bill as an assassin.

Rather than returning to the format laid out in Vol. I and II, this time Tarantino is said to be interested in anime-style (much like how O-Ren Ishii's bloody childhood section was shown).

The site warns, however, that Tarantino sometimes jumps the gun and movies he speaks about can take a long time to come to life, if they do at all.


Wohoo! I am excited! I liked Kill Bill movies and this is good news indeed.

Tuesday, July 25

FLCL: How Gainax Created The First Anime For The 21st Century

“In the first half of the 20th Century, a movement arose to overthrow what had up to that time been standard techniques of classical music, to wit, melody, rhythm, and tune, because they were in the way of creating anything new. So what about the field of graphics? What about Japanese animation? Will FLCL become an anime for the 21st Century, one freed from the various conventions of anime?”( 1)

Hiramatsu Tadashi
FLCL Animation Director

“So what about the millennium? I’m not really sure, but writers keep asking about it. Like is there a meaning to releasing this title in 2000? When we were making this, it ended up being made in 2000? No. No, no, no. There must be a wish for everyone to be asking the same thing. Everyone is hoping that this is a Millennium Anime limited to 2000. Wishes and hopes are actually demands. I see. If we say that we weren’t thinking about the millennium, no one would be happy. So it’s been decided. That FLCL would be created as an anime for the year 2000. Does it matter if it’s true or not? FLCL is a Millennium Anime.”(Synch-point 10)

Enokido Yoji
FLCL Script Writer

FLCL: How Gainax Created The First Anime For The 21st Century

How do you create a truly original anime for the 21st Century? Gainax believes they have done it by forming an avant garde, postmodern production held together with a classic storyline revolving around well defined characters and created utilizing cutting edge computer generated animation. What do you call an anime this revolutionary? Giving it only one name would not do it justice. It could be FLCL as it is technically referred to throughout Gainax, Furi Kuri for those who prefer the onomatopoeia of Japanese speech, or Fooly Coolly(sic) as it is known in America and as seen in several examples throughout the series.

The rest of this fascinating article can be seen here

My personal comment is, this anime did break many grounds for GAINAX and burned into public conciousness for its wacky storytelling and feel. This article more and less explained the reasons behind its totally out of whack story and concepts. Fascinating read indeed.

Sunday, July 23

JETRO report on anime industry.

A report from Japanese Government on anime industry trends. Not suprisingly, it is not too optimistic in tone.


Japanese animation is in the spotlight not only in Japan, but overseas as well. Amid an expanding domestic market for films, television and videos, Japanese animation film producers have also been turning their eyes toward overseas markets. At the same time, new developments have been seen in terms of diversified funding methods for film production. Against this background, the Japanese animation industry is working hard to deal with shortages in certain human-resource skills, reductions in domestic film-production sites and the challenge of expanding operations overseas.

Some parts of discussion:

Japanese animation (“anime”) has been acclaimed worldwide for its original, Japan-based culture and content, to the extent that it is called “Japanimation.” Director Mamoru Oshii’s animated film Innocence was nominated for an award at the 57th Cannes film festival in 2004. Innocence is the sequel to Ghost in the Shell (1995), which reached number one on Billboard’s video chart in the United States.

Miyazaki’s Spirited Away won the feature length animation Oscar at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003, reprising its capture of the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival and proving once again Japan produces world-class animation.

Many American and Asian animators reportedly want to work on Japanese anime productions, indicating that Japanese animation is viewed by professionals as leading its field. Spirited Away’s commercial success, however, demonstrated Japanese anime’s merits and international competitiveness among the global general public as well. The world clearly views Japanese anime as having potential for big business.

Nonetheless, the industry has not yet shifted its posture sufficiently to respond to overseas acclaim. Moving forward, the Japanese anime industry not only must expand overseas, it also must develop the necessary production/distribution systems and personnel to capitalize on the global business opportunities for anime and other content.

Production systems have in fact been set up, but the industry still has many glaring weaknesses in domestic/overseas distribution and rights, such as licensing and international business expertise in general. In the field of personnel development, animators do not have a suitably high social standing, so the exodus of such personnel to other industries and countries has become a large problem.

Sources: Japanese Economic Monthly, Jun 2005.

The English PDF can be downloaded here.

Anime Business in Japan

This is business article on anime business in Japan. A year old but still interesting to read.

The Anime Biz.

Another look into the genre with balanced view, since the author did comment on darker side of anime. I think this article is honest and tries to be objective in its view.

Anime, from Cute to Scary

Some of you might be curious to know what is my anime taste like. Here is my list, not in any particular order.

Here is my list of prefered titles.

1. Seikai Saga
2. Shingeshutan Tsukihime
3. Gunslinger Girl
4. Saishuu Heiki Kanojo aka Saikano
5. Gundam 0080 OVA
6. Gundam 08th MS Team
7. Now and Then, Here and There
8. Haibane Reimei
9. Kino no Tabi
10. Ghost in the Shell series and movies
11. Fate/Stay Night
12. Samurai Champloo

Honorary mentions:

All Miyazaki movies, 12 Kingdoms, Stellvia of the Universe, Ebichu,
Kogepan, Voices of Distant Star, Berserk, Cowboy Bebop , Akira,
Genshiken, Otaku no Video, Nadia and Secret of Blue Water, Fate/Stay
Night, Infinite Ryvius, Patlabor, Angel's Egg, Neia Under 7, Rozen
Maiden, Gasaraki, Sentou Yousei Yukikaze, Evangelion, Legend of
Galactic Heroes, Wings of Honmaise, Naru Taru, Kimi Ga Nozumu Eien,
Gundam 0083, Gundam's Char Counterattack, Mobile Suit Gundam 0079,
Witch Hunter Robin, Noir, Planet ES, Black Lagoon


SDCC: New "Afro Samurai" Details Revealed
By William C. Maune
07-22-2006, 12:19 AM
At the San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, new details were revealed about the upcoming Afro Samurai anime starring Samuel L. Jackson. The series, slated to run on Spike TV, will be five episodes long, although there may be more episodes if it does well. Each of the five episodes had a budget of over $1 million. Because the series is being made with Japanese television in mind, the uncut version of each episode will be 25 minutes long. Spike TV will be cutting three minutes out of each episodes though for an American television run time of 22 minutes. While the episode length is being made with Japanese television in mind, this will be Gonzo's first anime made initially for an English language audience. Thus, it will subsequently be dubbed into Japanese.

Full article can be seen here.

The official site for Afro Samurai.


Holding The Power of Anime
July 22nd, 2006 3:20 PM by Aaron H. Bynum

1 through 10

ICv2, a comics culture media group focused on disseminating the finer points and projects of select areas of the comics and animation industries, has released a list of which they have considered the most powerful individuals presently active in the western anime industry. The list, consisting of several executive officers of leading North America anime title distributors, reveals not so much which company holds the largest influence nor which organization garners the highest revenue; but rather gives enthusiasts a glimpse into which individuals, behind the companies, has the most control or capacity for future gain and/or growth.

Full article can be seen here.


This is serial manga in Mainchi Shimbun, which has English translation. Shows how big anime has become so far. Perhaps trying to emulate the popularity of Megatokyo?

The manga.


Issue 14.07 - July 2006

Meet the Geek Elite

At first glance, there’s not much to distinguish Koota Umeda from the millions of other Japanese salary­men. When we meet for a beer in a Tokyo bar, the personable 23-year-old is wearing a smart new suit and presents his business card with impeccable manners (he works for a major Japanese tech company). But the unfashionable side part in his hair hints at secret proclivities. The proof comes when he whips out his digicam to show me photos of his enormous, meticulously organized collection of manga, which he keeps in his bedroom at his parents’ house.

Full article can seen here.

Saturday, July 22

Ghost in the Shell: Innocence (2004)

This is my second review on the franchise; the focus is now on Ghost in the Shell: Innocence (2004).

The specifics here, is on Batou or Bateau, who used to be a close partner of Major Kusanagi. He is still angry and resentful of his inability to save her 3 years ago, trudging on with his life without any specific aim. This time he is partnered with idealistic and steadfast public officer Togusa to investigate an incident where a girl type android or gynoid went berserk in random manner located in red light districts of Fukuoka City. These androids are specialy designed for sexual services. Which makes it more puzzling as to why it acted in such manner, led to suspension of gynoid sales in the country. Not to mention too, it is direct violation of Asimov's Rule of AI, that is no harm should be inflicted on humans.

What will lead him later on is a huge conspiracy involving certain country to the north of Japan, child smuggling, illegal ghost dubbing, unethical corporation practice and triad involvement, plus a dangerous hacker lurking in between. Here, Batou or Bateau link to his humanity is his dog which the only affection that he ever shown. In contrast, Major Kusanagi obsession with voices in her cyber brain in the first movie which makes she think that is her soul or "ghost" resonating as a proof that she is a human. The dog, in a way, is a proof that he is still human despite being 100 percent cyborg with latest technology money can buy.

Will the Major and Batou or Bateau reunited?

Rating 9


The background colours is very dark and foreboding, miserable yet have some spark that denotes a life trying to be sentient in sea of artificiality. The city lights is gorgeous and objects in focus is well animated to give it realism that the story atmosphere demanded.

As expected from Mamoru Oishi, the highlight of this movie is the festival parade scene in Locus Solus. This scene alone is absolute manifestation of the movie speaks about, humans as mirror of their own creation in festival of their own doing and beliefs, thrown together in their flaws and imperfections.

The art style of character is heavily influenced by Studio IG who makes TV series, Stand Alone Complex series which in my humble opinion, looked a bit cartoonish compared to stark realism approach in the 1995 movie. Generous amount of CG is used in this movie, to give it impact and feel that can be easily described as visceral reinforcing the Japanese mastery of animation in stupendous manner.

However, the movie seem to be obsessed with dog and old retro cars, the animation of these things is flawless but does raises question as to what kind of symbolism that director trying to say. The action scenes are beautiful and masterful, just look out for the Yakuza den segment especially. Mamoru Oishi is known to have a pet dog in real life and he said "experiencing full freedom" when he is with his hound.

Rating 10


The soundtrack of this anime feature does live up to 1995 excellent OST. Suffused with synthesizer and Oriental musical in between, it creates a surrealistic feel and aftereffect complementing the scenes beautifully.

Voice acting in Japanese dubs is competent, highlights and gave soul to the characters portrayed in the anime, from stern, fatherly Aramaki to edgy, hardened Batou or Bateau; more so in latter case, because in 1995 movie, he is a smug, big man but in this feature, he is a tortured and glum personified.

The sound effects are well represented and fit the mood of the movie.

Rating 9


In this movie, instead of relying solely on montage silent shots in 1995 movie, Oishi using discourse between human Togusa and cyborg Batou or Bateau as main plot device. However some might felt the discourse is like textbook verbatim orgy, from the Bible to Dante�s work in giving the show�s philosophy more substance then it seems. Each character seem to mouthing off quotes, as if they were director�s wish himself was saying it but unable to because it is an anime feature.

The casualty of this highly artsy approach causes alienation of the audience. Some audience might turn off by it because their inability to connect to the story due lack of knowledge of the quotes in the show representation, especially the ones who want action and less talking. This is again, a very contemplative anime, an almost Zen-like feel in its entirety. A lot of second guessing is also needed to understand what is going on, and requisite good knowledge of literature and history is seem to be in order if full understanding is needed here. Mamoru himself said that he prefers 10,000 people watching this show few times, rather than 1,000,000 people watching it once. That underscores a very personal nature of this movie and its downbeat feel too, will restrict this show to elite few who understand science fiction mixed with philosophy.

There is a score of silent scenes which some audience might find tedious since it is very personal interpretation by the director himself.

In conclusion, this is a rather difficult anime to rate, since the full impact that Mamoru desired is yet to be felt but it is can said safely that this movie deserve more than one viewing to grasp the true vision of the director. Reportedly too, this will be last Ghost in the Shell movie for the famous director. However, this anime earn its rightful place in DVD shelf for my case.

Rating 9

G4 segment

Does Anime suck?

Interesting but a bit one sided argument here.

Friday, July 21

Ghost in the Shell 1995

Story & Characters

Here, I will review the Ghost in the Shell (1995) animated feature first.

Set in not too far dsytopian future of Tokyo megalopolis where technology has reach the stage where full replacement of human body is made possible by cyborg technology and more remarkably, the ability to retain human mind and consciousness in artificial brain which also can be hooked to cyberspace, directly via a port at back of the neck.

The story focused on a high level cat and mouse game between highly secretive Public Section no 9 and an elusive terrorist hacker known as Puppet Master with Foreign Ministry trying to muscle in with their own agenda. Apparently, a spate of incidents has been blamed on this infamous terrorist from commercial espionage to unauthorized hacking of sensitive government secrets using the vast world of cyberspace. Throughout the world, Puppet Master is on the top of the most wanted list for reasons above.

As expected, this anime paid huge homage to seminal cyberpunk movie by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner and also sprinkles of Gibson and Philip K Dick in forming a cohesive story and world where this characters to stage their lives in.

First we got to see Major Motoko Kusanagi, a strict, no-nonsense security officer with her sardonic partner, Batou. She works as an all purpose operator, with her enhanced cyborg body which the only remotely human vestiges is her vague memory of her humanity or in their universe, dubbed as "ghost".

However, the terrorist mastermind has his/her own very personal and basic agenda to fulfill; one that will shock even staid Motoko when it is finally revealed in the end.

The story is highly demanding in terms of audience cognitive approach, as the subject matter is often infused with rather complex existenalist philosophy. This high budgeted anime movie is definitely not for casual watching in lazy afternoon. However for those who is willing to spend time reflecting and have curiousity about what is mankind and how technology can address the issue, this anime movie is a huge delight.

Rating 10


In 1995 to even now, this anime movie considered as the de facto standard of excellence in anime art and animation to be measured against. No expense is spared and visual orgy is difficult to be printed in words. The character design is realistic, very human in their movement but yet the animators make a very clever aspect to highlight their artificial theme, by making their eyes glassy and unblinking.

The background colours is very dark and foreboding, miserable yet have some spark that denotes a life trying to be sentient in sea of artificiality. The city lights is gorgeous and objects in focus is well animated to give it realism that the story atmosphere demanded.

Among the highlights of this movie is the scene where Major Motoko is engaging a spider tank in an abandoned warehouse scene. The whole sequence and animation is breathtaking and poetic at the same time.

Rating 9


Music is arranged by Kenji Kawai, the most memorable piece is "Making of the Cyborg" which suffused with Oriental with modern synthesizer piece to give it unique flavour. In the movie, the variation of this piece never gets old since this anime is very introspective. The background music complements scenes nicely and overall a superlative experience to listen to.

Voice acting in Japanese and English dubs is competent, highlighting and gave soul to the characters portrayed in the anime, from stern Aramaki to smug, repressed Batou. The sound effects are well represented and fit the mood of the movie.

Rating 9


The movie relies on visual narration and bucket loads of montage shots to push the plot forward. Action sequence is few and serves as plot device to put the story in bigger perspective. It is meant as serious work and it shows. No panty shots, no silly jokes or any conventional anime relief. All serious, no holes barred realistic plus very detailed anime. Just look at the scene when the terrorist prepare himself to pump out hail of high velocity AP rounds to understand my last statement.

Many times, in the course of the movie, the director; Mamoru Oishi asked the audience to ponder what humanity is and what it means with his signature visual symbolisms from quiet walk in the city to long monologue by the principal character in the scuba diving scene. Silence is meant to be filled with audience�s own thoughts, and Oishi use it in spades in narration of the story.

The casualty of this highly artsy approach is however, pacing. Some audience might turn off by the sheer tepid pacing the anime presents, especially the ones who want action. This is a very contemplative anime, an almost Zen-like feel in its entirety. A lot of second guessing is also needed to understand what is going on, which can be quite frustrating to some especially the ending which never made clear as the ultimate fate of Major especially.

However, in no way this animated movie can be dismissed as it influences many follow-ups in late 90s and early 2000 anime shows, maybe not as influential as Evangelion but the impact is still felt, even today.

In conclusion, this is a seminal cyberpunk representation, whether it is anime or not, still a major work in the genre. I proudly own the original DVD and some art books related to this anime, never regretting it.

Rating 10

Thursday, July 20

News on Anime fandom in US and Japanese manga creator critic on anime fandom obsession of "moe".

Future of Japanese anime and manga looking bright in US
Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Japanese anime and manga - animation and comics - are drawing a lot of attention in the United States. And, more than ever before, not just from its traditional male audience.

The art forms, defined by complex story lines and saucer-eyed characters, are also being made and enjoyed by young exuberant women, along with enthusiasts of computer-generated graphics, from both genders.

A record 41,000 visitors, dressed in colorfully wild costumes - from blue-haired heroines to red-eyed vampires - recently attended Anaheim's Anime Expo, the nation's largest trade show of anime and manga, just across the street from Disneyland.

The entire original article can be seen here.


Self-professed 'real otaku' rips into 'moe' fetish fakers

One of Japan's most prominent woman manga artists has lashed out at the country's burgeoning otaku culture, saying that those now proudly boasting of being geeks are little more than pedophiles, perverts and losers, according to Shukan Bunshun (5/18).

Mimei Sakamoto, a multitalented manga artist whose "Nippon no Mimei" is a must-read for all hip young Japanese, rips into the otaku, whose geek culture has moved into the mainstream courtesy of the business of "moe," a word that literally translates as "gushing" and describes the warm feeling the otaku get when they see something they like.

The entire original article can be seen here.

Definition of moe from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, July 19

Gunslinger Girl (2003)

Story & Characters

This sad, depressing anime set in modern Italy tells a tale of group of very young girls employed by Italian Intelligence 2nd Section which publicly known as "Social Welfare Bureau" for covert operations against government targeted killings. Broken, abandoned and often have no more hope to have a normal life, the girls were chosen to be modified into bionic operators, endowed with superlative human characteristics such as agility and strength etc by G-mans so they can be deadly assassin. Using non-popular killer memes, their idea revolves around inflitration and absolute surprise on targets before to be eliminated by the girls.

The reason why they use underaged females is because they were more obedient and less likely to rebel, compared to males especially children age. Not to mention, people tend to let their guard down since female child tend not to pose any significant threat. To control these souped up operators, each of them were assigned a controller who is responsible for well being. It is not surprising that the controllers is usually male, in order to induce love as means of control over the girls.

The story above which originally started as H-lolicon doujin by creator Yu-Aida later evolved into highly intelligent and emotional mainstream manga, serialized in monthly Dengeki Daioh tankubon (manga novels). Afterthat it was adapted by Studio Madhouse into 13 ep anime which concluded in 2003. His love for Italian architecture and weapons is noticeable, thus rendering an unique flavour to Gunslinger Girl setting. Cute and brutal, innocent yet morally dissonant, Gunslinger Girl asked essential question on what is morality and humanity means.

This anime is not for everyone, as subject matter presented here is highly disturbing.



Reportedly one episode of Gunslinger Girl worth about 300,000 US Dollars in production. Even the ending song music video, there is no loop animation at all, each raindrops is animated independently. The look of characters and the surrounding environment catches the melachonlic atmosphere well, and the weapons is sufficiently animated. However slight drop in quality can be observed in episode 8-12, the sharpness and defined look established in episode 1-7, to be repeated again in final episode of the anime.

Despite some nitpickings, for TV series, the quality in art is quite consistent in general.

Background is lush and beautiful, in fact I wonder if it is intend to promote tourism in Italy. However in certain scenes, it is toned sufficiently to highlight the sombre mood. It is adequate enought to convey the beauty of Italy with its dark undertones to enchance the story setting. In emotional parts is dark, noir style and in happy scenes it is brighter than usual.



OST of GSG is awesome, it is mix of piano, violin and some other musical instruments. Being a musical illiterate person, I can say I truly enjoyed the OST. Tracks like Tema II and IV is worth the money for the album, in my opinion.

However the OP by Scottish band, Delgados is may somewhat appropiate for the anime, I cannot imagine it is a J-pop as many other animes out there. It is sad yet have fairy tale like quality in its lyrics.

The ending however is the weak link. I did not enjoy the ending theme as it is full of flaws in intonation and such. They should have look for more competent opera singer for this number.



The anime is incomplete, in the sense it only talks about Section 2 girls in detail. In tandem with manga continuity, the anime covers materials in Vol 1 and 2 with new Elsa story arc plus their own anime only wrap up. In manga story, the Republicans, main terrorist group is detailed in vol 3 and 4 as bunch of dedicated idealist who have their own code of honour and beliefs which not too different from Section 2 themselves.

The story focuses on relationship and connection between the girls and their respective controllers. Each individual was raised in accordance on how their respective controllers belief and personality. For example, Claes is raised in belief using physical force to solve matters, since her controller, Captain Ravallo believes in it too.

Principal characters in focus are Giuseppe and Henrietta, when we first introduced to her, she is a quiet and shy girl who is prone to overreaction, thanks to her conditioning and brainwashing. Giuseppe, sensing that she needs kind and loving touch to bring out the best of her, treated her like his own sister. In progression of the anime, we can see the increasing humanization of Henrietta, from silent, morose girl to chirpy normal little girl that might be a bit unsettling to some viewers when they are aware her real purpose in being: to kill. Giuseppe have conflicting stance in training his charge as he questioned the need for such existence of Henrietta and her co-operators.

She is used as foil as more bionic operators are introduced to us in progression, the distant Rico, sisterly Triela, quiet Claes and fragile Angelica, even hostile Elsa. By mirroring their behaviour, Henrietta gives viewer a glimpse of their thinking and motivation to continue their existence.

For fun factor:

Here I will do some ideas on characters based on John Woo's style of using gun characteristics to reveal the characters.

P239 SiG Sauer, compact and lethal yet beautiful plus delicate. Pretty much like the user.
FN P90, ibid.
Walther WA2000 bullpup sniper rifle, beautiful and compact, lethal too.

Dragunov SVD sharpshooter rifle, distanced and solitary.

Winchester trench shotgun 1894, in-your-face, brutal, straight to the point. If possible into your guts.
SiG Sauer P230 SL

Steyr AUG Carbine with Pictanilly rail, very fragile looking assault rifle, just like her.
Beretta M84

HK MP 5K PDW, silent and deadly
HK VP 70 stock custom, exotic and experimental

SiG Sauer P229
SiG Sauer SG552 SWAT Commando, Very well made and sturdy but neglected in arm's market, somehow it did not look very odd that Elsa was using this...
SiG Sauer SG550 Sniper

This anime is slow paced, melancholic and very, very subtle. If you looking for frantic and happy stuff, stay far far away from Gunslinger Girl. Humor is often non-existent or pretty bleak, in other words this anime has zero laugh factor. However, if one looks for meaningful, symbolic and deep thinking story, Gunslinger Girl has plenty to offer. Do remember, there is no way these girls will have a happy ending. Be warned. It is same thing as novel masterpieces, Dr Zhivago or War and Peace novel. It is depressing, crushing type of sadness but quite a memorable one.

Action-wise is pretty realistic but might be a bit too short for action orientated bunch.

In conclusion, I will purchase this anime on DVD.


Tuesday, July 18

Starship Operators (2005)

Story & Characters

The year is 2300 CE and mankind has spread wide and far in galaxy, However mankind still visit their sins on themselves despite being so advanced race.

Starship Operators is about the 73rd class of the Defense Academy of the Planetary Government of Kibi. As they are returning home after the shakedown trial of Amateras, the newest military escort vessel of small but high tech Kibi Space Navy, they find that their home planet has been taken over by expansionist empire of Henrietta Galaxy Alliance of Planetary Nations which quite closely resembled on 20th century Nazi Germany. The cadets decided to fight back with the high tech Amateras but first they need resupply, logistics and political support since they are considered as space pirates. They turn to Hollywood's Galaxy Network for financial support in exchange for exclusive rights of tv reporting on their war effort to free Kibi from the Empire. The network embedded a pretty reporter, Dita Mirkob to give live coverage on the Amateras crew, led by charismatic if somewhat reluctant Shinon Kazuki, XO of the ship. Styled after reality shows like Survivor or Big Brother, it becomes an instant hit in the universe as people anxious to see how they would fare against the might of the Henrietta Alliance.

Since the ship was leased to Galaxy Network, the crew of the bridge was to be all female to attract more viewership and the producer was ruthless enough to engineer some events to spice up the program. Sound was incorporated for dramatization purposes and the battle is noted for intelligent use of realistic space physics and logical thinking. No Itano Missile Circus Barrage or Gundamsque space duels. Pure mathematics, multilevel thinking and logical solutions is the name of game to survive the space battles. This anime is a delight to hardcore science fiction fans as it as faithful to space physics as they can get, for example battles were fought over ranges like 900,000 km and usually it is based on calculations with timing, like torpedo firing solutions in submarine warfare. Most characters are realistic and they really bring forward their youthful enthusiasm for war. At least they are university student age, from 18-24 years old range and it is relief from teeny bopper age of Gundam lore.

However the anime tries very fast to push the plot, some people commented it is too hasty and choppy in some places in order to make a coherent plot.

Wrote by Ryo Mizuno, creator of Lodoss Wars series and animated by JC Staff, it is 12 episode anime which I considered as one of the best hardcore science fiction anime series in tradition like Legend of Galactic Heroes or Seikai Saga. In fact I considered it as one of the best anime in dismal 2005.

Rating 8


The art is adequate and fluid but it is not the mainstay of the anime. On its own, the drawing is adequate enough to tell the story but on pure anesthetic value did not rank itself amongst the best like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series. Characters are drawn with reasonable maturity and suitable for the purpose of the anime. Nothing cutesy and minimal fan service is great welcome as too many anime resorted to such cheap hook to get more audience to watch them. The CG fits where it should fit and the space battle did convey vast distance plus resulting isolation from traditional warmth of Earth in dark cold space. However in middle of the series, the art did went down little bit but it is not to a large degree. The art went back up as the story reaches its climax in the end.

In the end the art did measure to a reasonable quality for the story demanded.

Rating 7


The ending song by KOTOKO, Chini Kaeru ~on the Earth~ is very suitable and apt for the series mood. It is very melancholic yet soothing, a testament to KOTOKO's ability to bring out the various mood in this song to complement this anime. The opening, Radiance by Mami Kawada is too frantic and fast paced for the series so it is bit maladjusted to push the mood of the anime.

Kenji Kawai composed the soundtrack competently and in some parts it is the only thing to sustain the tension of the situation as it is battles fought in such distance that defied normal senses. Some slow scenes also benefited from properly inserted background music, really shows why Kenji Kawai is one of the best composers for anime series. However he has his lapses, as his composition for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex shows.

I saw the whole series in Japanese and as expected the voice actors and actresses really bring out the character as I imagine them to be. Shinon sounded reluctant but decisive, instead of high pitch cutesy voice which will undone the seriousness of her character. As far as voice acting in Japanese concerned, no complaint here.

Rating 8


The anime lack of humor is understandable, the crew was placed in such perilous situation that is ridiculous for them to think any funny jokes at this point of time. Shinon reluctance to fight is clearly made but her dedication and skill make her a very endearing yet human personality. This anime is about her coming to age of her being, from potential recruit in the beginning into a full blown, highly respected strategist in the end. Other characters around her act as her conscience and foil, magnifying or reacted her actions.. The machinations of Henrietta Empire and later on Earth Federation also interesting but viewers have to fill in a lot of blanks as the action is not shown clear. It is often hinted or implied, thus this is might be reason why most mainstream crowd avoided this anime. Perhaps the writing should less technical as to not scare off people from this anime? Maybe.

The author really tried very hard to give the authentic feeling and logical, sensible touch to the story setting as much as he could. Things like all Henrietta's Empire warship named after famous naval battles reflecting their aggressive military culture to pervasiveness of reality TV show of Galaxy Network showed his research and good knowledge. Thus, it gives the anime a very real touch of what space age might look like in 300 years time from now. It is also an interesting comment of his believes that militarism produces absolutism that often led to corrupt abuse of power as shown in Henrirtta Empire revelation in the series. Something what happened Japanese Imperial Empire in World War 2. Needless to say, the combat strategy is quite plausible and this is few series actually tried to use 3D in devising combat tactics and strategy. Neat stuff.

Concise story, well thought out setting, sensible characters and purposeful storytelling make this anime very intelligent and makes it an acquired taste to enjoy it. I would not recommend this anime to anyone who looking out for action packed no brainer series though. However, if you looking for a series that actually respects your intelligence, get this anime fast. It is really worth it.

Rating 8


This anime is badly neglected by many fans which is sad. I thoroughly enjoyed this show, it is not as epic as Legend of Galactic Heroes or as polished as Banner of the Stars series but it has its moments and have deep, engaging story. Some parts might be a bit choppy but nevertheless the anime has rare quality which is a sense of purpose and satisfying ending. To me, the last 2 qualities is very important.

For starters

Hello Hello, this is my first post in anime commentaries. Now nothing come to my mind yet, will write something when something did come to my mind. Until then, stay tuned.